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

Bangkok, Thailand, 13 February, 2012


Deputy Prime Minister
Executive Director of the Police Service of INTERPOL
Leaders of the Customs and Police authorities from across the tiger range States
Members of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Committee and its Wildlife and Pollution Crime Working Groups
Partners from the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime
Distinguished participants

Mr John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General delivering
opening remarks at the joint opening ceremony

It is both a great pleasure and an honour to join you here in Bangkok for the joint opening ceremony of three important events: the Heads of Police and Customs Seminar on Tiger Crime; the 23rd Meeting of the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, and the 17th Meeting of the INTERPOL Pollution Crime Working Group.

We extend our most sincere gratitude to the Government of Thailand for its very warm and generous hospitality, and we express our thanks to colleagues from INTERPOL for taking the lead in organizing all three of these important events.

Environmental crime is a growing problem world-wide. INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have acknowledged the increasing involvement of organized crime syndicates in both pollution and wildlife crime - syndicates that carry out detailed planning, have significant financial support, and that are often well armed. 

These syndicates engage in the international management of shipments and do not hesitate to use violence or threats of violence against those who try to stand in their way. They constantly adapt their tactics to avoid detection and prosecution, making national borders increasingly irrelevant.

In order to counter these criminals, it is critical for the enforcement community to keep up-to-date with latest developments, and to discuss emerging trends and future activities. It is why events such as these are so important.

Environmental crimes can result in high profits, profits that are illicitly gained and at the expense of local people and both the national and global environment.  Yet all too often they carry low risk of detection and prosecution, and relatively low penalties.

Against this background, experience has shown us that no one agency can win the fight against environmental crime. There is an enforcement chain that is only as strong as its weakest link, and if we are to succeed we must draw on each others experience and expertise to ensure successful detection, collection of evidence, arrest, prosecution and conviction, supported by strong penalties.

As such, we need agencies to work cooperatively at international, regional and national levels. And we are seeing increasing cooperation at all levels - and meetings such as these enable us to strengthen such networks.

As Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a convention that regulates trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals, allow me to focus for a moment of wildlife crime.

Implementing the Convention at a national level is severely challenged by the extent of illegal trade, which some value at USD 10 billion a year. This is driving some animals and plants towards extinction and is robbing local people of livelihoods and countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage.

For example, last year we saw record levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, with 448 rhino killed by poachers in South Africa alone. In 2011, a subspecies of the black rhino was declared extinct in the wild in West Africa and we also witnessed that Viet Nam lost its last Javan rhino, which is understood to have been killed by poachers. And today tigers in the wild number little more than 3,000 - and we will hear much more about their plight tomorrow, including about the Global Tiger Initiative and Project PREDATOR.

At this rate we could see iconic species driven to extinction in the wild in the lifetime of our children, and if we cannot save these iconic animals what hope do we have for lesser known species. We must not let this happen. But we cannot stop it without you.

In an effort to support national enforcement authorities meet this serious challenge, five international organisations have come together to form the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). ICCWC is a collaborative effort of the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Bank - working together to bring more coordinated international support to national wildlife law enforcement agencies, that act on a daily basis in defence of their natural resources. And the Consortium also supports sub-regional and regional networks such as ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network and SA-Wildlife Enforcement Network.

The Consortium has been signed off at the highest level by each organisation, and each member brings its own particular expertise to the initiative. And I am pleased to be joined today by the new CITES Chief of Enforcement Support and Enforcement Support Officer, both of whom will be well known to you, namely Ben Janse Van Rensburg and Pia Jonsson. Two officers with a deep understanding of the issues and vast front line enforcement experience.

The Consortium came together in Shanghai, China last year to provide training in controlled deliveries for customs, police and prosecutors from close to 20 countries and across Africa and Asia, and this week the Consortium is convening the heads of customs and police across the tiger range states on tiger crime - meetings led by the WCO and INTERPOL respectively. At international level we are taking bold steps to practice what we preach regarding better coordination, which is to the benefit of national authorities. 

And we need to see the same level of cooperation at the national level if we are going to seriously tackle wildlife crime, a comment that applies equally to tackling pollution crime. It is tough, and can sometimes seems impossible, but it can be done.

For example, we have been heartened to see efforts taken across all relevant agencies in South Africa in confronting illegal trade in rhino horn. These efforts have resulted in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of poachers and smugglers culminating in very long custodial sentences - sending a very clear message to everyone involved in this highly destructive crime that you will be pursued and you will be severely punished.


You are an indispensable part of efforts to take a more sophisticated and coordinated approach to fighting environmental crime, which represents the best chance we have to protect local people, our global environment, and each countries cultural heritage and natural resources, both for our children and their children.

Events such as these absorb considerable resources, and being represented here places a big responsibility on each one of you. We hope that you will take the discussions and initiatives of the coming week back home and convey them to your colleagues in a way that truly benefits enforcement efforts.

We again express our sincere gratitude to the Government of Thailand and our thanks to colleagues at INTERPOL - and I wish you every success with your respective activities over the next few days in advancing ways and means to prevent and combat environmental crime in all its forms.

Thank you.