Game over - or game on for wildlife?

Illegal trade in animals and plants has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, threatening the local extinction of populations. Sadly, the international community lags behind in responding to this urgent wildlife crisis. The Dutch EU Presidency has put the matter high on the agenda - and the European Commission has launched an ambitious plan to tackle wildlife trafficking.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella and Luc Bas at the Save Wildlife Conference, The Hague in The Netherlands

From 1-3 March, the Save Wildlife conference took place in The Hague, Netherlands. The conference was hosted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, in close cooperation with The Hague Institute for Global Justice and The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit. Around 300 representatives from ministries, private stakeholder organisations and CSOs attended the three-day event to discuss all aspects and challenges of Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT).

Building upon previous conferences held in London, Kasane and elsewhere, the focus of this meeting was to identify some of the key international commitments to tackle wildlife crime, which now need further efforts to turn them into much desired action.

Wildlife quiz, Wildlife deals
During the opening session, IUCN challenged the participants to demonstrate their knowledge on the status of IUCN Red List of threatened species, during a Wildlife Quiz. Luc Bas, Director of the IUCN European Regional Office, tested the wisdom of the crowd with questions like ‘How many tigers are left in the wild?’, ‘Which country is called the land of a million elephants?’ and ‘What sub-species of white rhino is close to extinction?’. In many cases the audience got the answers right, but when it came to the amount of surviving Asian elephants (40-50,000), participants thought it was just 20,000.

Identifying Wildlife Deals formed a central part of the conference, as an innovative approach to seek collaboration between organisations to implement actions on the ground. These Deals were identified in a range of dedicated working groups on Technology, Governance, Demand Reduction, Finance, Tourism and Sustainable Livelihoods and Economic Development.

The conference’s working groups concluded about 40 new and existing initiatives – and they will be followed up with concrete actions and financing. The IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group organised a working group on engaging communities in the battle against IWT. TRAFFIC organised a Working Group, which identified new partners for a global network of demand reduction experts from a multitude of sectors, not just conservation. This network will allow for learning, sharing of resources and information, and collaboration in the field of demand reduction.

Failure in IWT means extinction
One of the more remarkable contributions during the Save Wildlife Conference came from Rory Stewart. A former diplomat and writer, now part of the British government, Stewart spent ten years in Afghanistan working on drug eradication projects.  He said that he spent a lot of time in meetings talking about the same issues in IWT: financial networks, kingpins, partnerships, capacity building, et cetera.  But the result was a well recognised failure.

One reason, Mr Stewart said, is that we are not tough enough with each other. “We are often afraid to say that a particular approach won't work.  We tend to follow the line of least resistance.  But unlike counter narcotics, failure in IWT means extinction.”  It is very likely, he warned, that the international community will meet again in one or two decades and conclude that the fight against wildlife crime has failed. Mr Stewart urged participants to look for context specific solutions and to delve into local politics. He also said that we need to explore sustainable solutions such as how to make trophy hunting work for wildlife.

World Wildlife Day
The closing day of the Save Wildlife conference coincided with World Wildlife Day. This was a good moment for European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella, to present the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking. In his speech, Commissioner Vella stressed that fighting the illegal trade in wildlife only is possible if the whole ‘supply chain’ is addressed, through three priorities of prevention, enforcement, and partnership. Continuous attention was paramount. Vella: ‘Each and every day of the year should be a World Wildlife Day.’

‘IUCN welcomes the EU’s Action Plan,  specifically how it acknowledges that sustainable livelihoods are a key component to tackle IWT’, commented Luc Bas, IUCN European Regional Director. ‘We look forward to seeing a prompt adoption of the Action Plan in the European Council. IUCN calls on the EU and its Member States to identify how the actions will be monitored and financed. ‘

The conference closed with a high-level round table discussion focusing on law enforcement and sustainable livelihoods aspects. According to the Dutch organisers, the three-day meeting has shown that ‘if we act now, the fight against poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking can be won. It is game on.’ Later this year, a follow-up meeting will take in Hanoi, Vietnam.

For IUCN, this week was a great experience working as a One Programme, co-ordinated by the European Regional Office. We worked as a real delegation made up of representatives from Secretariat, Members and Commission. We jointly facilitated the working group on catalysing community engagement in combatting IWT. Existing Wildlife Deals and initiatives working with communities were showcased. We also mobilised ideas for new Deals that drew great interest to work with communities on issues of such as promoting rights, building capacities and benefits sharing.

For more information, please contact Anouska Plasmeijer (EU Relations Officer), [email protected] or on +32 2 739 3005


South-Eastern Europe 
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