London, United Kingdom – Today, heads of state, ministers and officials of around 50 countries convened in London for a summit on illegal wildlife trade. The opening of the conference held at London’s Lancaster House, which was addressed by the Prince of Wales as well as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is one of the highest level summits to tackle the burgeoning international illegal trade, especially ivory and rhino horn, where elephants and rhinos have been slaughtered in an unprecedented number. Rhino horn is now worth more per kilogram than gold or cocaine. Prince William said on launching a new organisation to combat trade, United for Wildlife that “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.”
Ahead of the summit the US announced it would ban all commercial imports and exports of ivory products. This comes in the wake of last November’s crushing of that country’s ivory stockpile, which prompted China, the biggest buyer of ivory and who will also be represented at the conference, to do the same in January this year. China’s action was followed by a commitment from Hong Kong to do the same with its 32 tons of stockpiled ivory and just last week France crushed a portion of it’s stockpile while London followed closely with a ceremonial crushing of ivory just before the summit convened.
At the opening, Hague said that delegates would be adopting an “ambitious and powerful London Declaration.” This would include a commitment to renouncing the use of any products from species at threat of extinction and a promise to support the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) ban on the international trade on ivory until elephant populations have stabilized. He added: “The illegal wildlife trade is a global problem and it matters deeply to all of us gathered here today”.
“We need to show the world our political commitment at the highest level across the globe to addressing this before it is to late.”
In line with the US announcement this week, the leaders of four African countries – Gabon, Botswana, Chad and Tanzania – who spoke at the start of the summit committed to a 10-year moratorium on any ivory sales.
The President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, said: “Last year, we burnt an entire stockpile of ivory to show that Gabon has no tolerance for this.”
President Ian Seretse-Khama of Botswana said that he would put the country’s ivory stockpiles out of reach of the markets.
Tanzania, however, has been particularly vocal about selling its stockpile of ivory, estimated to be well over twenty tons. It had hoped to gain a CITES approved ‘once-off’ sale of its stockpile and use the funds to continue the battle against poachers but after sustained pressure from other countries, conservationists and celebrities this past month, the East African nation seems to have shelved its plans in favour of a united stand with the other four African countries.
In 2008 Zimbabwe and South Africa were granted once-off sales of over 100 tons of their ivory stockpiles to China. It was a move many conservationists blamed for the recent spike in the slaughter of elephants. As Mary Rice, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “We need to learn from history and permanently shut down all ivory trade – international and domestic.”
The 10-year moratorium upholding the ban, will prevent any country asking permission from CITES to sell their ivory and it is hoped that it would go a long way to help the recovery of Africa’s declining elephant populations.