The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is turning into a global crisis. This is not simply an environmental problem. With 25,000 elephants poached in 2011 and 22,000 in 2012, IWT has become a global criminal enterprise, with the power and reach to disrupt economic development, drive conflict, sustain terrorist groups and mire the poorest people in poverty.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, annual proceeds from IWT averaged between $7.8b to $10b in the years 2000 to 2009.
IWT products used to be available only to the wealthy few, but economic growth has led to a rapidly expanding middle class with higher spending power. IWT has flourished with the expansion of the Internet as a global marketplace, bypassing national and international regulations.
Illegal ivory trade activity worldwide has more than doubled since 2007, with ivory fetching up to $2,000 per kilo at the point of sale and elephant numbers in all four African sub-regions are now in decline.
Organised crime groups, especially those with smuggling capabilities, find wildlife trafficking attractive because of its low risks, high profits, and weak penalties.
IWT is a truly global issue which cannot be ignored. The solutions are there but only if we join forces and create a system that works. To solve the issue we need to reduce and remove demand for products, prevent transit and help range states like Uganda to choke off supply.
This requires international political commitment by governments. Some progress has been made. In May 2013, the UN officially characterised international wildlife and timber trafficking as a “Serious Crime” which should result in a minimum sentence of four years.
The UK is committed to playing its role in helping to stop this trade and resolve the difficult issues caused by IWT. We have recently adopted a cross-government action plan to tackle the illegal trade.
We hosted the successful London Summit in February, which focused on improving law enforcement to catch and punish those responsible, supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods in areas affected by wildlife crime; and reducing demand for wildlife products, because demand for these products is what drives the trade.
Uganda was represented by Mr Oryem Henry Okello, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The UK has also announced £10 million of new funding for projects aimed at tackling poaching and IWT.
Uganda has benefitted, with two projects (promoting sustainable livelihoods in Budongo Forest and a review of wildlife crime around two parks) receiving £512,000 (Shs2.25b), and a third regional project targeting the criminal gangs receiving a further £270,000 (Shs1.2b).
This is in addition to the support the British High Commission provided last year to the Uganda Conservation Foundation and Uganda Wildlife Authority for their anti-poaching project in Murchison Falls Conservation Area, through provision of solar panels and geo-location cameras for two new ranger stations.
This clearly underlines the UK’s continued commitment to working with Ugandan partners to help combat this illegal trade. Tackling the trade will require sustained commitment by the international community, but if we work together, we can succeed.
Ms Blackburne is the British High Commissioner to Uganda