The UK Government has vowed to clamp down on the soaring trade in illegal wildlife products such as rhino horn and elephant ivory, pledging £10m to fight a crime offering “low risk and high rewards”.
Illicit trade in wildlife has exploded into a $19bn (£11.6bn) global criminal enterprise, driven by newly-rich Asian consumers who aspire to a luxury lifestyle through status symbols such as ivory goods, as well as exotic pets, such as monkeys, and meats, such as anteater.
The vacuum of demand has been filled by organised criminals who can make a fortune with relatively little risk of conviction and who are threatening government stability and national security in some of the worst-hit areas in Africa, pressure groups say.
A combination of high prices, weak laws, poor enforcement and relatively short sentences, has made poaching far more attractive to criminals, they say.
The Government clampdown will see the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) join forces for the first time.
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, said: “Poaching devastates livelihoods and sustainable communities as well as endangering the existence of these wonderful animals. We must work together with other countries to stamp it out by stopping demand, improving enforcement and by helping communities develop sustainable economic activity.”
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “By working with Defra to tackle the illegal wildlife trade we are helping to improve the economic opportunities of the poorest people whose livelihoods depend on natural resources. This fund will also help stop corruption fuelled by the illegal trade.”
Funding will be awarded to support action in developing countries that reduces the “opportunity and incentive” to poach. It will also be used to provide training and equipment to help law enforcement. Some of the budget will fund a campaign to raise awareness of the impact of wildlife crime, which the World Wide Fund for Nature says appears to fund terrorist cells in unstable African countries, with the criminals often using the same networks as other illegal trades, such as drug trafficking.
The £10m fund is being made available as David Cameron prepares to host in London the highest-level global summit to date on combating illegal wildlife trade. The summit in February aims to produce an unprecedented political commitment and an action plan.