Wild cards

Maggie Jones on Labour’s plans to tackle the illegal wildlife trade

This week, I attended the international conference on the illegal wildlife trade hosted by the UK government in London. The conference was attended by representatives from more than 80 countries alongside businesses, conservation organisations and civil society leaders, who are working together to combat wildlife crime around the world.

The illegal wildlife trade is a major threat to the survival of some of the world’s most threatened species of animals and plants. This trade has grown rapidly over the past decade, and has now reached unprecedented levels. Tigers, elephants, pangolins and rhinos killed respectively for their skin, tusks, scales and bone now face a very real prospect of extinction from the wild. Illegal logging meanwhile, causes huge economic and environmental damage.

The impact of such illegal trade is not just confined to wildlife. Serious, organised and worth over an estimated £15bn each year, it has far-reaching and devastating consequences across the world. It is used by criminal networks involved in drugs, weapons and people smuggling, who launder money, fund conflict and thrive on corruption. It overwhelmingly affects the poorest and more marginalised communities, many of whom are reliant upon access to natural resources for their livelihoods. And it impedes economic development.

That is why it is critical that governments around the world unite to tackle the illegal trade, by addressing corruption, improving law enforcement and giving greater support to those upon whom it has the most negative impact.

In the last year alone, more than 100 rangers were killed on the front line of the fight against poachers. As part of the international community, the UK must do everything possible to support their vital work and to strengthening the related legal frameworks.

For wildlife crime to be stamped out, those communities whose lives are inextricably linked economically, socially, and culturally with endangered species need to benefit from them in a meaningful way. At present, many people who become involved in the illegal trade do so because other opportunities are so few and far between. Poaching is extremely lucrative and when the rewards are so high, the risks can seem worthwhile. They must therefore, be empowered to see the economic advantages of ending such practices.

The tourism sector offers a unique opportunity to transform the relationship between wildlife and local communities. At the conference, it was inspiring to hear about the partnership between the government and tourism sector in Botswana; and how the industry is leading the fight against wildlife crime.

If communities have a stake in persevering wildlife, they will be its best protectors. We must do all we can to support alternative, sustainable livelihoods. But the UK must also play its part in reducing demand for wildlife products, which fuels the illegal trade in so many species.

The government’s long awaited Ivory Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords. This legislation seeks to ban the trade of almost all items containing elephant ivory, with limited exemptions for musical instruments and antiques of significant historical, cultural or artistic value. Along with others in the Labour Peers Group, I am working to ensure the legislation is extended to other ivory bearing species as soon as possible.

An incoming Labour government would end the import of wild animal trophies from species that are classified by the international Union for the Conservation of Nature as critically endangered. We would also extend this ban to species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 12th October 2018

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