Royal efforts to support fight against illegal wildlife trafficking

Updated on 12 January 2021

For use of the media only;
not an official document.


Geneva, 21 May 2013 – The Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is attending today a conference hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson MP. The event calls for action at the highest levels to stop the illegal trade in wildlife – an activity that jeopardizes not only the world’s conservation efforts but also poses a serious threat to national and regional security and the economy.

The United Kingdom Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “It is all too easy to think that the extinction of a species is a thing of the past, when it is a very real problem today. That is why I’m pleased to be co-hosting the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference with the Prince of Wales. This is a real opportunity to get these issues raised at the highest level internationally. Our campaign on endangered species, called ‘If They’re Gone...’, aims to raise awareness and encourage individuals to take action to protect some of the planet’s most iconic species. It’s by working together that we can reduce demand for endangered wildlife and related products around the world and assist communities to find long-term alternatives to the trade.”

“Just two months ago, at their triennial policy meeting held in Bangkok, the Parties to CITES took the most powerful suite of decisions in the Convention’s 40-year history to combat the current disturbing spike in the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, as well as for other species - they must now be fully implemented. Excellent initiatives such as this event can generate greater political momentum to ensure the implementation of agreed decisions, attract much needed financing, and enhance public outreach to suppress demand”, said Mr John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General.

In recent months, poaching of elephants and rhinos has reached epidemic levels. Wildlife experts indicate that the losses have reached such unsustainable levels - in some places in the tens of thousands - that certain populations of African elephant are for the first time threatened with extinction within a decade. Both the black and white rhinos are also under unprecedented attack for their horn and certain populations have been declared extinct in Mozambique and Viet Nam. This grave threat comes on the heels of a period where populations of wild tigers have decreased by more than 90 percent. Although the poaching of wildlife for ivory and other parts is nothing new, certainly the scale of the activity has reached heights not seen before.  It seems no country with valuable wildlife populations is immune from the activity, which not only robs citizens of natural resources, but also contributes to global instability.

As highlighted by Mr Scanlon, of great concern is the increasing involvement of organized crime, rebel militia and in some cases rogue elements of the military; in the perpetration of killings that are occurring on a mass scale, often with impunity; and with the use of sophisticated weapons and other equipment - with the consequential impacts on people, and in some cases on national security and the economy.

New uses of wildlife are also emerging - uses that are unrelated to traditional uses, and which appear to be driving much of the new demand, especially for ivory and rhino horn. In a perverse use of free market economics, individuals are stockpiling contraband wildlife products as they bank on extinction.

Responses to the poaching crisis and the spike on illegal wildlife trade need to reflect these realities and be commensurate with the gravity of the risks to wildlife and to people. These steps include a range of different, yet complementary, strategies - that include stepping up enforcement efforts, suppressing demand for illegal wildlife products, enhancing financing for sound wildlife management and finding incentives for local people to act as the guardians of their wildlife.

CITES Parties also fully backed the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, known as ICCWC - a joint initiative of CITES, Interpol, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization, which provides the coordinated and professional support countries need to fight well-resourced criminal syndicates.

Background on the event

The Prince of Wales and the British Government’s objective for the 21st May conference is to put what has become a battle against wildlife trafficking at the top of the global agenda. The meeting will focus on promoting international efforts to reduce demand for endangered wildlife and related products in markets around the world; increase capacity for global law enforcement against the organised syndicates engaged in this activity; assist communities to find long-term, viable alternatives to the trade.

The key countries in attendance will include those in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America that play a role in the illegal trade:  those that are a source of the wildlife and related products; those where the contraband crosses their national borders; and those whose citizens fuel the demand for the illegal products.

Convened by The Prince’s International Sustainability Unit (ISU) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), it is hoped that this conference will be the first stage in a process which will result in key countries signing a “Declaration” at a meeting in Autumn 2013 to commit at the highest levels to end the illegal trade in wildlife.

The British Government has also been working extensively on this issue through Defra’s ‘If They’re Gone...’ partnership campaign, which was launched in March 2013. ‘If They’re Gone...’ is a year-long partnership campaign involving Defra, wildlife NGOs, zoos and safari parks. The campaign aims to increase public awareness of the plight of wild rhinos, elephants, orangutans and tigers and inspire individuals to take action to help reduce the threat to endangered species.

See also: Video statement of HRH The Duke Of Cambridge Prince William for the CITES CoP16

Note to editors:

For more information, contact Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or [email protected].


With 178 Member States, CITES remains one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, housing, health care, ecotourism, cosmetics or fashion.

CITES regulates international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.

CITES was signed in Washington D.C. on 3 March 1973. The CITES Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Learn more about CITES by visiting or connecting to:


To read previous press releases, go to Archive