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UNEP urges world to swiftly curb illicit trade in wildlife

03 March 2014, 20:30

Nairobi - The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on Monday called on governments to swiftly shut down the markets that sustain illegal trade that threats to wipe out wildlife across the globe.

The appeal comes as the world marked the first ever World Wildlife Day on Monday as the global attention turns to a 19 billion U.S. dollars illicit trade -- the fourth largest in the world -- that includes elephant poaching, great ape theft and the illegal transport of timber.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the governments have a key role to play, in eliminating the illicit trade in wildlife which he said, denies humanity of these essential services, and contributes to the rapid decrease in the numbers of species worldwide.

"We as citizens of countries across the globe have a vital role to play in shutting down the markets that sustain this illegal trade which threatens the survival of iconic species such as elephants and rhinos, but also of other threatened animal and plant species," Steiner said in a statement released in Nairobi to mark the Day.

Steiner said theft of natural resources is rapidly emerging as a new challenge to poverty eradication, sustainable development and a transition towards an inclusive Green Economy.

The illegal trade in wildlife -- considered the fourth largest in the world after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking- - also has major implications for international peace and security.

March 3 was also the day of adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973.

"The UN's first World Wildlife Day coincides with renewed attention being paid to the escalating crisis of wildlife poaching. While providing us with an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic diversity of life on earth it also reminds us of the urgency and responsibility to care for and protect it," said Steiner.

Concern is growing amongst conservationists that the endangered African elephant is currently grappling with what could be the worst crisis to ever hit them since 1989 when international commercial trade in ivory was prohibited.

Wildlife conservationists say rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has caused a poaching crisis in recent years across Kenya in particular and Africa as a whole with over 1,000 rhinos having been killed on the continent in the last 20 months.

According to African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) statistics as many as 50,000 African elephants are killed for their tusks every year.

Criminal networks are responsible for the illegal trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia. Large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009 and reached an all-time high in 2011.

UNEP said it has for the past four decades worked to support nations to establish legislation at both the national and the global level to combat poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife.

"This has helped countries to more effectively protect our wildlife heritage. Environmental crime continues to undermine these efforts. World Wildlife Day is an opportunity for all of us to reconnect to this vital and urgent cause," Steiner added.

It is estimated that current trends of species extinctions are between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the naturally expected levels.

"Wildlife is cherished in its own right and for the contribution it makes to our personal well-being - from food to medicine - from culture to recreation," said CITES Secretary- General John Scanlon.

"Our wildlife is suffering from illegal trade. Let's do all we can, as citizens and consumers, to bring illegal wildlife trade to an end. In doing so we will secure the future for wild plants and animals, as well as for ourselves," he said in the statement.

Illegal killing of large numbers of elephants increasingly involves organized criminal groups and sometimes well-armed militias. For example, up to 450 elephants were killed in Cameroon in early 2012.

Poached ivory is believed to be exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region. CITES and its partners are supporting the strengthening of national enforcement capacities to fight wildlife crime.

Already, international pressure ahead of the CITES conference has prompted host country Thailand to end its own legal ivory trade.

According to UNEP, wildlife crime continues to threaten the lives of rangers in their fight to stem the illegal tide. It is also often linked with the exploitation of disadvantaged communities, human rights abuses and other challenges to inclusive, sustainable development – including by jeopardizing livelihoods around the world.

International police organization, Interpol's report which was last in Nairobi last week reveals that large-scale ivory seizures - - which reached an all-time global high in 2013, with 18 seizures accounting for some 41.6 tonnes of ivory -- typically indicate the participation of organized crime, with trafficking syndicates operating in multiple countries simultaneously.

The report, produced by Interpol's Environmental Security unit, highlights the need for increased intelligence analysis in order to provide sound evidence for multiple count indictments where the trafficking is linked to fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Kenya has been identified as one of the leading transit routes for smuggling ivory out of Africa, with several incidents of ivory seizures and recovery of wildlife carcasses in recent days.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) estimates that more than nine tonnes of raw and worked ivory have been seized since 2009 as the demand for ivory in Asia continue to attract criminal cartels to Kenya, who are feeding the insatiable demand.

Illegal trade in wildlife has increased exponentially over the past five to seven years and affects international security, stability, governance and biodiversity.

Kenya was identified as one of the eight countries of concern with respect to illegal trade in elephant ivory during last year's 63rd Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species meeting.

The number of African elephants illegally killed in 2012 is estimated at 22,000, and preliminary indications show that the number may be even higher for 2013.

- Xinhua


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