CITES Secretary-General's remarks at the High Level Event on Illegal Wildlife Trade - UN Plaza, New York


High Level Event on Illegal Wildlife Trade 

German House, UN Plaza, New York 

Statement by John E Scanlon, Secretary-General, CITES 

6 June 2017


His Excellency, Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon

His Excellency, Günther Adler, State Secretary to the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety


Distinguished Guests

Friends and Colleagues


Sincere thanks to the Permanent Missions of Germany and Gabon to the United Nations, as well as to WCS, for inviting me to make a statement today at this important event. My apologies for not being able to join you in person.

CITES staff are spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans this week as we support the UN Oceans Conference at UN Headquarters in New York and participate in significant events in Fiji and Australia, which is where I am today if all has gone according to plan.

It is accepted that the industrial scale illicit trafficking in wildlife witnessed in recent years is driven by transnational organized criminals and sometimes rebel militia. They target high value species without regard for wildlife or people’s lives. They corrupt local officials, recruit and arm local poachers, create insecurity and propel local communities into a poverty spiral.

The severe impacts this highly destructive illegal trade has on achieving sustainable development is now widely recognized, as is reflected in the outcomes of Rio+20 (The Future We Want paragraph 203), the landmark 2015 UN General Assembly Resolution (on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife), the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 15 Target 7), and the outcomes of last year’s CITES CoP17 – and we express our deep thanks to the co-Chairs and the Group of Friends in New York for what you have done in entrenching this issue on the UN agenda.

There is a global collective effort underway to tackle illegal wildlife trade and we are seeing unprecedented levels of high-level political support and international and regional cooperation. We now have more mandates on tackling illegal wildlife trade than we could ever have imagined just six years ago – coming from the UN General Assembly, CITES, the UN Crime Commission, the UN Environment Assembly, the GEF, INTERPOL, and the World Customs Organisation.

They are all critical to direct, guide and enable States and organizations to take action. Yet the fight against illegal wildlife trade is not going to be won in the conference room. It will ultimately be won or lost in the field, on the frontline – through the rangers, police, customs, inspectors, legislators, prosecutors, judges, tourism operators, transport companies, and local communities. We believe that action in the frontline must be our focus going forwards and frontline action is well underway.

Just looking to enforcement, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, or ICCWC, is now fully operational, increasingly well-funded, and providing coordinated support at country level to help national customs, police, wildlife and other authorities fight these transnational organised criminal groups.

This support includes how to apply the same tools and techniques used to combat other serious crimes – be it the use of modern forensics, specialized investigation techniques, or tackling money laundering. Germany has provided great support in developing forensic methods to determine the age and origin of ivory through ‘ivoryID’, a powerful tool that is now available to authorities to strengthen their efforts to combat illegal ivory trade.

Over the past three months, I have seen first-hand what is happening in Kenya through community engagement in the Northern Rangelands Trust, where due to these efforts elephant poaching is down by 50% and no rhino has been poached in four years, and in Beijing, China, I witnessed the closing of the first tranche of ivory carving markets and factories, as China further enhances the very strong stand it has taken against illegal wildlife trade.

Through an initiative of HRH the Duke of Cambridge, the transport sector is now engaged, with over 50 transport companies signing a pledge to take actions to combat illegal wildlife trade, which is captured in the Buckingham Palace Declaration. And just last month, I had the opportunity to reach out directly to Chief Executives from right across the travel and tourism sectors at their annual Global Summit to join us in this collective effort, in this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, recognising the positive role that responsible wildlife based tourism can play in stopping poaching and smuggling through generating local jobs and national prosperity.

Bold decisions were taken on tackling illegal trade in wildlife at CITES CoP17 held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last year. It was our largest and most successful CoP ever, and it brought a further 500 species under CITES, including more marine species such as sharks and rays and precious timbers, such as rosewood. Parties also increased the protection afforded to highly trafficked species, including the pangolins, and took powerful decisions on combating corruption and cybercrime and on demand side strategies.

We now need equally bold concrete actions to implement these outcomes, as we have seen in China with the decision to close its domestic ivory markets by the end of this year. All of the political, financial and technical support that has been generated over the past years must converge and translate into further support to the frontline.

We are convinced that if we persist with our collective efforts – just a few examples of which I have highlighted today, we will end the surge in illegal trade in wildlife experienced over recent years. The figures released in March on the trends in illegal killing of elephants in Africa through our MIKE Programme shows that, while much remains to be done, we are on the right track.

Excellences, colleagues, this year may present an opportunity to keep the political spotlight firmly on the issue by capturing all that has happened since 2015 in an updated but equally powerful UN General Assembly Resolution, one which gives a strong expression of political support to those people serving in the frontlines, as we look ahead to London in 2018 and CITES CoP18 in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2019.

Thank you very much and I wish you well for the rest of today’s event.