CITES Secretary-General's opening remarks at a High-level Stakeholder Dialogue on Illegal Wildlife Trade held on World Wildlife Day - UN Headquarters, New York

World Wildlife Day

High-level Stakeholder Dialogue on Illegal Wildlife Trade

It's time to get serious about wildlife crime
 

Opening remarks by John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General, CITES

WCS Central Park Zoo, New York, 3 March 2015

 
 
Hon. Ambassadors from Gabon, Germany and Thailand
Hon. President of the UN Environment Assembly, Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren
Distinguished guests
Friends and colleagues
 
It is wonderful to see so many people from Permanent Missions, UN agencies, international and national organizations and the media all here today.
 
We are most grateful to our three host Missions, Gabon, Germany and Thailand and to all other supporting organizations, including WCS.
 
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I am sure everyone here today has seen graphic images of elephant and rhino slaughtered for their ivory and horn – a tragic crime scene that is being replicated every day across their range.
 
These images capture the brutal impact on these majestic animals – what they do not reveal is the profound impact this poaching and illicit trafficking is having upon entire species and ecosystems, local peoples and their livelihoods, national economies, and national and regional security. 
 
Nor do they reveal the faces of the transnational organized criminal gangs and in some cases rebel militia who are driving this illicit activity – corrupting officials all along the way, recruiting local poachers, and reaping high profits off shore at the expense of local communities, national economies and ecosystems. And it does not show how their ill-gotten gains are invested in all manner of criminal activities. 
 
Disturbingly, the same observation could be made about many more species of animals and plants – well know species as well as species many people may never have heard of.
 
The crisis we are confronting is not the result of a natural phenomenon like a drought, a flood or a cyclone. It is the direct result of what people are doing. People alone are the cause of this serious threat to wildlife and people must be the solution. 
 
And I would like to spend a few moments to focus on the human element – and there are perhaps three human traits that are primary drivers of this illegal trade: greed, ignorance and indifference. 
 
Greed – this is the greed of the transnational organized criminals and in some cases rebel militia who peruse profit with no regard for people or wildlife. They are not influenced by images of dead animals or impoverished people – just as those trading in narcotics are not affected by images of the multiple deaths they cause. These individuals are influenced by risk and profit – and hence we need to increase the risk and diminish the profit. On risk – they must feel the full force of the law. They must be found, prosecuted, convicted, jailed and severely fined and have their ill-gotten assets seized. This requires the State to treat wildlife crime as a serious crime and deploy the same sorts of techniques used to combat other serious crimes, such as covert operations, controlled deliveries and the use of modern forensics. 
 
Ignorance – this is the consumer who is unaware they are purchasing illegally sourced wildlife or who does not appreciate the true cost to species or people of their purchase of illegally traded wildlife. Culturally appropriate awareness raising efforts can show these consumers that the true cost of their purchase is not just what they paid for the item. The true cost is the costs to wildlife and to people from where the product was sourced as well as to our natural heritage – with the profits going into the hands of organized criminals. By reducing the illegal market we diminish the profit and make it less attractive for these criminals to become involved. Civil society has a key role to play here. 
 
Indifference – this can refer to the indifference of customs, enforcement officers or prosecutors towards wildlife crime, indifference of politicians towards wildlife and the livelihoods of rural communities or indifference of the general public. It is possibly the hardest human trait to tackle and it is where leadership matters. What political leaders say matters – it provides clear direction on political priorities across government. The opinions of high-profile public figures, such as Royalty, heads of organizations, actors and of sports men and women, all matter. What they say influences public opinion about the severity of such crimes, how they should be treated and on how we value wildlife – culturally, scientifically and economically. 
 
The positive news is that significant work is underway addressing all three issues: more States are treating wildlife crime as a serious crime; targeted public awareness campaigns are well underway in all regions; and politicians at the highest levels and key opinion leaders are speaking out. These efforts are supported by the excellent work being done with local communities on livelihoods and engaging them in the fight against wildlife crime, which is a must for success in the longer term. 
 
The UN agencies are working as one, and international and national organizations of all persuasions have joined in this collective effort – and the benefits of this collective effort can be seen today with tens of millions of people being reached through our combined efforts at using social media. 
 
We are confronting a serious challenge and clearly more clearly needs to be done – but we are starting to see the benefits of the collective efforts that are underway addressing the entire illegal supply chain and tackling both demand and supply. 
 
The data released today by CITES MIKE on the reduction in the poaching of elephants in Eastern Africa is tangible evidence of progress.
 
Colleagues, the growing level of political commitment that is evident here in New York, the front-line measures that are underway across source, transit and destination States, and the added momentum being generated from events such as today’s worldwide celebration of World Wildlife Day, convinces us that we can succeed through collective action. 
 
How quickly that will happen depends on people, including all of us here today, and I thank each one of you for your commitment.