The far east is no longer the sole focus of the fight against illegal ivory, with experts warning that the UK is increasingly becoming a “major hub” for the contraband.
Simon Burns MP believes an “unprecedented spike in the illegal wildlife trade” could undo all the work of conservationists in recent years. Around 36,000 elephants are believed to be killed each year while demand for rhinos and other animals for traditional medicines is increasing.
Mr Burns told a debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall that London is a major centre for the illegal trade, which is estimated to be worth as much as £12billion a year and funds other crime including terrorism.
His comments came as the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda revealed it has been forced to employ a security force of 80 armed rangers to protect its 13 rhinoceros.
Mr Burns said: “After decades of conservation gains, the world is now dealing with what I believe is an unprecedented spike in the illegal wildlife trade, threatening all the gains of recent years. The situation is, to put it starkly, devastating.”
He added: “There is a significant problem and, although a considerable amount is being done by the international community, we seem to be, in many respects, on a losing wicket, because of the increased activity in different parts of the world by those who are prepared to engage in this illegal trade.”
Mr Burns said in 2011, 23 tonnes of ivory was seized by authorities, which represents 2,500 elephants, across the globe – the worse year since 1989. He said the situation affecting rhinos was “horrendous” with poaching occurring at a rate of one every 10 hours, an increase of 5,000 per cent between 2007 and 2012.
“But ironically, the world’s largest seizure of rhino horn, which included 129 horns, occurred in Kensington in central London—not somewhere normally associated with rhinoceroses,” said Mr Burns, referring to a 1996 raid.
As well as animals being hunted, those guarding the creatures are also vulnerable to attack.
At least 1,000 park rangers have been killed in the last decade, and Angie Genade, executive director of Rhino Fund Uganda, said: “It’s a very difficult job and one not appreciated by many.
“They are so vulnerable because rhino horn is believed to contain medicinal values.”
She added: “The figure of poached rhino in the rest of Africa is nearly doubling every year. South Africa lost about 1,000 rhino to poaching alone during 2013.”
Last month, representatives from 50 countries converged in London to discuss how to tackle the illegal ivory trade.
Also present at the summit were Prince Charles and Prince William.
Prior to the event the Duke of Cambridge launched a new organisation, United for Wildlife, to help combat the trade, and said in a video message: “We have to be the generation that stopped the illegal wildlife trade, and secured the future of these magnificent animals, and their habitats, for if we fail, it will be too late.”
It was also reported Prince William wants all 1,200 ivory items in the royal collection to be destroyed.
Replying for the Government in the Westminster Hall debate, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister George Eustice said the trade ranked alongside “drugs, arms and people trafficking”.
He added: “In February, we published the document “UK Commitment to Action on the Illegal Wildlife Trade”, which set out what we are doing across Government.
“We are committed to reporting against that commitment in a year’s time. Action is already under way. For example, as part of our commitment to fighting the illegal wildlife trade, the UK recently formally extended the convention on international trade in endangered species to the British territory of Anguilla.
“We have already announced that we will use a £10 million DFID [Department for International Development] funding package to support our partners in their efforts to tackle the trade, and we will soon announce how to apply for that fund.”
By Owen Bennett. Source: Express