A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference


A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, Battersea Evolution, London

Thank you, Rageh and thank you, Aidan.

Your Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen – welcome to London.

It is heartening to see so many of you here today, united by a common desire to end the illegal wildlife trade.

I have just returned from a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya. I saw some tremendous work being done to intercept the trade and keep animals as safe as possible in their natural habitat. I also learnt about the absolute importance of community-led conservation so that people value wildlife as an economic resource.

Some of the rhinos I saw are under such threat that they have more bodyguards than I do!

Wouldn’t it be better though if the demand for rhino horn dropped to the extent that they didn’t need anyone to protect them at all?

The work of conservation and environmental protection is not about quick wins. And it is work that will never be complete.

The atmosphere will never be protected forever. Our water will never be permanently safe from pollution. And our iconic and endangered species can never be declared completely safe.

That’s what we are here to talk about today.

This is the stuff of decades of hard work. It requires small incremental steps, the occasional big leap forward, and resilience in the face of setbacks.

We must celebrate our successes and take confidence from our ability to tackle these complex challenges.

Since we first gathered here in London four years ago we have achieved a great deal.

  • Governments around the world, particularly China, the US and UK, have taken unprecedented steps to legislate against the ivory trade.
  • The price of ivory has fallen by a staggering 75%.
  • 19 African Range States now stand united through the Elephant Protection Initiative to protect their elephant populations and put ivory beyond economic use.
  • Over 100 representatives of the transport sector have signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration, committing to disrupt the flow of illegal wildlife products passing through their trucks, their ships and their planes.
  • More illegally trafficked wildlife products are being seized in Asia;
  • Communities are being given greater control and benefits from their wildlife, improving their incentives to keep endangered species safe;
  • And committed, brave people all around the world continue to put their lives on the line to protect wildlife and bring criminals to justice.

So thank you to everyone in this room.

Whether you are a ranger risking your life on a daily basis to protect elephants in a National Park;

A campaigner trying to correct falsehoods about the healing power and value of rhino horn;

A business leader ensuring that your company plays its part in frustrating the trade;

Or a law enforcement official working to bring trafficking gangs to justice.

You are the experts, and you know what works. You rarely get the recognition that you deserve.

We must listen to you and we must amplify your voices.

But despite the progress we have made over recent years, we know that this is no time for complacency:

  • Over a thousand rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the last decade;
  • Poaching levels may well be decreasing in some areas, but overall they remain too high;
  • As the ivory market is closing down in some countries, it is being displaced elsewhere;
  • Pangolin scales, rhino horns and body parts of big cats are still easy to find in street stalls all around the world;
  • We are not yet seeing enough criminal convictions for wildlife offences, and all too often punishments are too lenient;
  • And all this means that thousands of local communities are being deprived of their most valuable natural resources and a route out of poverty;

It is heart-breaking to think that by the time my children George, Charlotte and Louis are in their twenties, elephants, rhinos and tigers might well be extinct in the wild.

I for one am not willing to look my children in the eye and say that we were the generation that let this happen on our watch.

It is time to treat the illegal wildlife trade as the serious organised crime that it is.

It is carried out by ruthless cross-border criminal networks.

It is fuelled by corruption.

It damages economic growth and sustainable development.

It undermines governance and the rule of law.

It robs communities today of their future sources of income.

And it exploits the poorest people in some of the most vulnerable countries on earth.

Organised criminal networks are adding to their profits through involvement in wildlife crime.

They see it as a lucrative and relatively low-risk activity. They are the very same groups who move drugs, people and weapons.

These networks are sophisticated, coordinated, adaptable and professional.

They innovate faster than we can and they exploit weaknesses in our systems.

Let me be clear;

I am not asking anyone in this room to prioritise efforts to fight the illegal wildlife trade above drug trafficking or money laundering.

I know very well that law enforcement resources and judicial systems are stretched.

But I am asking you to see the connections. To acknowledge that the steps you take to tackle illegal wildlife crime could make it easier to halt the shipments of guns and drugs passing through your borders.

And to recognise that this is a transnational crime that you cannot leave to your passionate, but thinly stretched, wildlife crime officers to tackle alone.

You might find it easier to arrest a king-pin or a middle man for trafficking illegal wildlife products than to catch him red-handed smuggling heroin.

Remember – Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion, not murder.

In discussions today and tomorrow, we must remember how crucial it is to work together across Government agencies, with the private sector and civil society, and across borders and continents. Too often good work is done in a silo, rather than in a partnership.

Only a fully integrated approach, where we work together, will work at all.

I’m delighted that our efforts to work with the transport sector have borne fruit.

And I was very pleased to convene 21 financial institutions as they signed the United for Wildlife Financial Taskforce Declaration at Mansion House yesterday afternoon.

Most of the world’s major banks have now committed to improve how they identify, track and report suspicious financial activity related to the illegal wildlife trade. These financial institutions must now take action to treat this as a serious financial crime, and to follow the money.

It is encouraging that existing anti-money laundering systems are already being used to implement these new commitments. This does not involve re-inventing the wheel. It just means using it better.

For the first time, the existing Joint Money Laundering Taskforce has this week sent out an alert to banks with specific intelligence related to the illegal wildlife trade.

This provides information about suspected criminals; likely transactions that might be suspect; and risk profiles in source, transit and destination countries.

But this evidence will all be for nothing if we do not bring criminals to justice.

Investigators must act when suspicious activity is identified. And lawmakers and judges must ensure that the penalties are higher than the rewards.

So before I close, I want to take a moment to remind you all about why this matters.

Caring about the environment – our air, water, land and animals – is motivated by something that is simple and universal.

A desire to protect this planet for those who will come after us.

I firmly believe that the natural world is our biggest and most important asset, and the key to our future prosperity. We must ensure that humans and wildlife live together in balance, without conflict.

My plea to protect this delicate balance between growing human populations and diminishing endangered wildlife is not purely emotional.

It makes economic sense.

Poaching threatens not just animals, but the livelihoods of generations to come. This is an economic crime against ordinary people and their future.

We must inspire the next generation of young leaders to care about nature, value it as an economic asset and help us live better, together, side by side.

I feel it is my duty, and our collective responsibility, to leave our planet in a stronger position for our children.

Thank you.

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