The illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to wild tigers, rhinos and elephants. Of the 2,853 seizures made between 2009 and 2014, the UK Border Force found at least 1,165 ivory products, 127 rhino horn items and 1,682 tiger products from 257 separate confiscations. China was the most frequent country of origin for these products, closely followed by the USA.
The UK Border Force seizures show that traffickers are using new methods to smuggle items. Wooden statues are proving a popular smuggling disguise for ivory and one seizure even found a kilo of raw ivory inside a parcel of ball bearings. The recent seizures revealed that traffickers are also sending more than one type of illegal wildlife product in the same package.
Sarah Goddard, Species Policy Officer at WWF-UK said: These seizures prove that the UK plays a role in the illegal wildlife trade as it is part of the international transit route and is sometimes the end destination for these illegal products. We commend the UK Border Force for stopping the transit of these illegal wildlife trade products but their statistics show that there is still a lot to do to tackle wildlife crime."
The statistics come at a fundamental moment for the fight against poaching.
Critical week for response to global poaching crisis:
UK government published two documents demonstrating their actions on Illegal Wildlife Trade. Wednesday 25 March 2015
On Wednesday, the UK government published 'The UK Commitment to Action on the Illegal Wildlife Trade - An Update' and their 'Self-assessment of progress on commitments in the London declaration'.
The reports outline the financial and technical support they have provided internationally, including training, to key source, transit and consumer countries, such as helping to draft Kenya's new wildlife legislation. The UK Government also reported the allocation of £5.3 million for nineteen global projects through its Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.
The UK government acted as Secretariat to the Kasane Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade which took place this Wednesday. This, alongside their efforts in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) discussions means the UK government can be commended on their actions in international policy on illegal wildlife trade.
However, despite some progress reported, including the establishment of a Crown Prosecution Service Wildlife Community Panel, action on illegal wildlife trade in the UK could be further bolstered.
Sarah Goddard, Species Policy Officer at WWF-UK said: "WWF and TRAFFIC commend the UK government on its efforts thus far to combat illegal wildlife trade internationally. However, we urge the future UK Government to commit to long-term sustainable funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and to properly resource illegal wildlife trade as a serious organised crime within all relevant bodies including the UK Border Force, the National Crime Agency and police forces.
"The handling of wildlife crime cases could be greatly improved by the introduction of sentencing guidelines for wildlife crime and ensuring that suspects apprehended for wildlife trafficking are treated as serious criminals. Addressing these national issues would help secure the UK as one of the leaders in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade."
The government update also references information system EU-TWIX, which helps enforcement agencies prioritise and target their interventions. The EU-TWIX (European Union Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange) database has more than 40 000 records of illegal wildlife seizures and is used for information exchange by enforcement agencies across 35 European countries including the UK.
Sarah Goddard said: "EU-TWIX has a proven track record in helping the fight against wildlife crime and WWF hopes that EU Member States, including the UK, continue to support the system that will help ensure actions agreed to at the Kasane Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade can be implemented."
Kasane Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade. Kasane, Botswana. Wednesday 25 March 2015.
Wednesday's conference in Kasane reaffirmed the determination of Heads of State, ministers and officials from 31 governments to scale up their response to the global poaching crisis, and adopt crucial new measures to help tackle the unprecedented surge in illegal wildlife trade.
During the one-day meeting, governments reported on their progress since the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in February last year, where 41 countries and the EU agreed to take urgent and decisive action to combat wildlife crime.
Wednesday's conference ended with the agreement of the Kasane Statement, which builds upon the London Declaration that set out actions to eradicate the market for wildlife products, ensure effective legal frameworks and deterrents against wildlife crime, strengthen law enforcement, and support sustainable livelihoods.
The conference highlighted key successes in the past year including increased levels of law enforcement action, especially in Africa, which have led to a rise in ivory seizures. Some countries have also started to improve their domestic wildlife-related legislation. Last month, 13 tiger range countries in Asia committed to a zero poaching framework and toolkit, which could be used as a blueprint for curbing poaching worldwide.
Heather Sohl, Chief Species Advisor at WWF-UK said: "Governments attending this conference have demonstrated some progress in the implementation of the London Declaration. However, we need to see an upscaling of resources and action to tackle this illegal trade at a level commensurate to the serious crime that it is. Effective strategies need to be implemented to increase the effort and risk for poachers and traffickers, whilst also reducing their rewards."
African Elephant Summit follow up meeting, Kasane, Botswana. Monday 23 March 2015.
Monday's meeting in Kasane was a follow-up to the African Elephant Summit held in Gaborone in December 2013. The meeting considered the status of the elephant population in Africa, the rate of illegal killing, and trends in the illegal ivory trade. The summit also assessed the implementation of the 14 urgent measures agreed at the original summit, highlighting progress as well as key challenges and emerging issues.
During the summit, CITES announced the 2014 elephant poaching figures, which showed overall levels had stabilised but were still far too high - and with those exceeding natural growth rates, elephant populations continue to decline. Some progress has been made in East Africa, but the situation continues to deteriorate in West and Central Africa. If current trends continue poaching could cause the extinction of elephants in Central Africa.
Heather Sohl, Chief Species Advisor at WWF-UK said: "Countries are taking the poaching of elephants far more seriously now, and understand that this transnational organized crime erodes national security, the rule of law and development opportunities.
"Forest elephants in Central Africa are the victims of most of the poaching and we risk losing this unique species if efforts are not stepped up further, all along the ivory trafficking chain.
"Some progress has been made since the African Elephant Summit and the London Conference but over 20,000 elephants are still being killed each year. Governments must do more to implement their existing commitments and to agree new measures at Kasane to make it even more difficult for poachers and traffickers, and to encourage a change in consumer behaviour."
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London Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Review of Progress: The report is available on the UK government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/declaration-london-conference-on-the-illegal-wildlife-trade
UK Commitment to Action on Illegal Wildlife Trade - an update is also available on the UK government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/415562/iwt-commitment-action.pdf
Governments maintain global momentum to curb wildlife crime at Kasane Conference: http://www.wwf.org.uk/about_wwf/press_centre/index.cfm?uNewsID=7528
The following 31 countries participated at the Kasane Conference: Angola, Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, Tanzania, UAE, Uganda, UK, USA, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe
WWF is one of the world's largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is the leading non-governmental organization working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of WWF and IUCN.
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Emma Roberts | Media Relations Officer | WWF-UK
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