The following statement was given today by John Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science at the 2015 ECOSOC Integration Segment held by the Permanent Missions of Germany and Gabon:

“The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is an international organization with the mission of saving wildlife and wild places. We have programs in more than 60 countries around the world.  We work to protect some of the world’s most iconic species, and we manage or co-manage more than 200 million acres of protected areas across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania and North America, employing more than 4,000 staff.  We work in close collaboration with governments, the United Nations family, other non-governmental organizations, and local communities, to mention just some of our key partners.


“Wildlife trafficking is estimated to be worth some $19 billion dollars annually and with the inclusion of fish and timber could be far higher.  It is considered by experts to be the fourth largest illegal trade in the world after drugs, human and weapons trafficking.


“The illegal wildlife trade clearly shows the links between the economic, social and environmental pillars embedded in the sustainable development goals.


“The illegal trade is devastating to wildlife, and to the wild systems of which they are integral parts.  There are also hugely significant negative economic implications for countries and communities. The illegal wildlife trade robs nations of their wealth.  According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), wildlife watching represents 80 percent of the total annual sales of trips to Africa, with wildlife viewing safaris as the most popular product.  In Kenya and Tanzania for example, tourism, most of which is wildlife based, is worth some 12 percent and 17 percent of the GDP of those countries respectively, employing several hundred thousand people in each country with important linkages into many other parts of the economy.  Good jobs in sectors involving accommodation, transportation, tours, cultural performances, wildlife park management, together with government revenue sharing from tourism, help reduce poverty and inequality, including for women, young people and marginalized groups. Wildlife tourism is fundamental to sustainable development in many countries, and is seriously undermined by poaching of that wildlife and trafficking in their parts. Furthermore, illegal and unregulated fishing is also having a devastating impact on marine biodiversity, sustainability, and coastal community livelihoods.   Although local poachers do get paid for poaching, the main profits of the lucrative trade are not made at local level, but with the sophisticated outside criminals whose illegal networks are running the whole trade.


“Wildlife trafficking is also threatening human security. Heavily-armed outside poaching gangs directly threaten local peace, security and democratic processes. In addition, in many cases, the proceeds from poached animals and trafficking in their parts, in particular ivory, fuel armed groups especially on the African continent, undermining the peace and security of regions, individual countries and communities.  This trafficking and associated transnational organized crime significantly undermines sustainable development of local economies.


“There are implications for the rule of law. The corruption all along the trade chain from source to destination that enables the illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of national and international law.  The Secretary-General said on the occasion of World Wildlife Day on 3 March that the ‘illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and is a major obstacle to the efforts of rural communities and indigenous peoples striving to sustainably manage their natural resources.’


“Finally, the plundering of wildlife, both on land and in the sea, removes vital resources from the marginalized communities who most depend on it. This includes bushmeat, as well as fish -- It is estimated that about 1 billion people, largely in developing countries, rely on fish as their primary animal protein source, and illegal fishing that largely benefits consumers in wealthy countries undermines that basic food security. Loss of certain species to poaching for illegal trade, undermines ecosystem integrity, and harms the ecosystem broad range of ecosystem services that are essential for our very survival, including for human health.


“What is the global community doing about this crisis and what more can it do?


“Valerie Hickey and William McGrath of the World Bank recently wrote in an official WB blog, ‘Crimes affecting natural resources and the environment inflict damage on developing countries worth more than $70 billion a year, rob communities of long-term opportunities, fuel corruption and distrust in civil authorities and undermine legitimate natural resource based businesses….By getting serious about wildlife crime, we work to ensure that the legal trade in living natural resources and opportunities for prosperity built upon natural resources can both flourish.’


“The United Nations system and Member States continue their work through programs on the ground and the key Conventions and Treaties on Biodiversity, Migratory Species, Transnational Organized Crime, on the Oceans and Law of the Sea, through CITES, the work of the functional United Nations Commissions, especially the United Nations Commission on Crime, Prevention and Criminal Justice, and the recent Security Council resolutions.  The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will be dedicating resources to the illegal wildlife trade in its next generation of support. In fact the very range of the Conventions and resolutions demonstrates just how pernicious and how cross cutting an issue the illegal wildlife trade is, and how vital it is to act on wildlife trafficking as the serious transnational crime that it is.


“In this our host country, President Obama set up a government Task Force and Advisory Council on the illegal wildlife trade.  Through this initiative, the United States has developed a National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, and associated Implementation Plan, and is engaging other countries to solve the problem collaboratively.  African countries met in Botswana in December 2013 and again last week to review progress across a number of critical measures.  The European Parliament passed a ground-breaking resolution in January 2014 calling for a new EU Action Plan against wildlife crime and trafficking, and created a new EU fund to safeguard Protected Areas and combat poaching and wildlife trafficking on the ground. The resolution also called for national moratoria on ivory sales and for the destruction of ivory stockpiles. The European Commission is showing leadership in developing a new wildlife trafficking strategy, along with a new strategy for African wildlife conservation in the context of development. The United Kingdom hosted a high level meeting in February 2014 where a number of countries agreed to close their domestic ivory markets, and take other important actions to stop wildlife trafficking.  A group of NGOs, ourselves included, is working with the Royal Foundation in the UK to stop wildlife trafficking. Another consortium of NGOs, ourselves included, is working together with the Clinton Global Initiative to have Africa’s elephants, deploying some $80 million to stop the killing of elephants through enhanced protection on the ground, to stop their trafficking through better tracking and seizure of ivory, and to stop the demand through efforts to change consumer behavior in key market countries.


“We commend member states in particular for including two critical targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, in Goal 15, namely,


“15.5 take urgent and significant action to reduce degradation of natural habitat, halt the loss of biodiversity, and by 2020 protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species


“15.7 take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna, and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products


“We believe these targets and the associated indicators that will accompany them are critical and will stimulate and support action, particularly at country level.


“What more can we do?


“First, securing a General Assembly resolution on this issue will be extremely important.  Member States could at a minimum recognize the extreme seriousness of the situation, call for urgent and priority action, and request that CITES and or the Secretary-General report regularly to member states.


“Secondly, keeping this issue high on the political agenda of countries is key.  The “Friends Group” is a great example of your collective determination to do this.  We believe your focused and continued political attention to this matter is vital. 


“Thirdly, as you will all recall, the Millennium Declaration of 2000 urged that “prudence must be shown in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the precepts of sustainable development. Only in this way can the immeasurable riches provided to us by nature be preserved and passed on to our descendants.” We call on member states to reiterate this call in the historic Political Declaration that will be adopted at the Heads of State Summit in September.


“Fourthly, supporting country level work is key.  Ensuring a multi-dimensional response is well reflected across National Development Plans, United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks, and strategies and programs of non-governmental organizations and that this work is adequately resourced is absolutely critical.  In this vein, the increased funding support we see domestically in countries and from the international community, the European Union, bilateral aid and through the multilateral system is encouraging.


“We must continue to act with extreme urgency and political muscle, to stem the illegal wildlife trade and the devastating impact it is having on the sustainable development trajectory countries seek and on the economic, social and ecosystem fabric of so many countries.”