WWF Urges Governments to Commit to Halting Illegal Wildlife Trade

Posted on 03 June 2021

- Profit is the most important driver behind global illegal wildlife trade - Online wildlife sales provide new channels for illicit trade within national boundaries, across borders, and between continents - WWF calls for greater support to tackle the challenge of illegal wildlife trade
Asia-Pacific, 3 June 2021: WWF urged the need to act immediately to strengthen our response towards transnational wildlife crime which poses a grave threat to wildlife, critical habitats, and people.

Illegal wildlife trade (IWT), which often involves transnational organized crime syndicates, is destroying wildlife populations around the world, harming local people and is amongst the drivers of disease outbreaks. Countering this damaging trade requires addressing it at key points along the trade chains—transport bottlenecks, financial transactions, and online sales—in a targeted and sustained fashion executed through collaborative actions of governments, international bodies, the private sector, and NGOs.

To facilitate and coordinate meaningful actions to disrupt IWT in the region, WWF’s Asia-Pacific Counter-IWT Hub was initiated to complement and build synergies amongst existing WWF programmes and partners that are taking actions to combat IWT. Based in Hong Kong, a global finance and transport hub, the IWT Hub partners with government authorities, e-commerce and financial institutions, shipping and airline industries, and other like-minded NGOs to disrupt IWT routes and stop the illegal trade by tackling financial crimes underpinning IWT and making the transport of illegal wildlife more difficult and costly. By working with partners like TRAFFIC and United for Wildlife, the Hub achieves impact through catalyzing, innovating, networking, and amplifying counter-IWT actions.
 
The WWF Network, including WWF Australia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Pakistan, and Vietnam, urged governments across Asia-Pacific to commit funding and take coordinated and concerted efforts to halt illegal wildlife trade at this critical juncture.
 
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an added urgency to diminish and tackle illegal wildlife trade as a matter of public health and safety. As the current pandemic has shown us, the costs of diseases originating in wildlife can be extreme, endangering human health and lives, causing tremendous economic losses that run into billions of dollars, and disrupting societies at multiple levels. In this regard, the Hub champions evidence-based policy reform to help combat high-disease risk wildlife trade. The Hub also recommends adoption of the One Health approach strategy in the Asia-Pacific region as an institutionalized response to prevent future pandemics.
 
The sale of illegal wildlife products generates billions in revenue annually and is the fourth most profitable illicit trade. Transactions from the illegal wildlife trade flow through the global financial system. The Hub has facilitated a ground-breaking partnership with the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) which has made IWT a priority for financial institutions around the world and has trained thousands of financial crime investigators. 
 
The Hub is also working with some of the largest shipping companies in the world in developing responses to identify suspicious IWT cargo. Great volumes of illegal wildlife contraband are shipped in containers, creating a vulnerable bottleneck in the trade chain where authorities can take action.
 
Hammad Naqi Khan, Director-General, WWF-Pakistan highlighted the urgent need to make a concerted effort to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade (IWT). “This is a much-needed effort at a time when illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a major force driving species to extinction”, he added.
 
His Highness Tunku Ali Redhauddin Ibni Tuanku Muhriz, Chairman of WWF-Malaysia, addressed the urgent need to prioritize tackling wildlife trade and its damaging impacts. "We need the targeted and savvy interdictions of operations like the Hub, alongside close cooperation with, and support from, governments and partners, to upend the business model of the wildlife syndicates and bring about an end to this ruinous trade", he added.
 
Malik Amin Aslam, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, also highlighted the need to take concerted action by working alongside the Counter-IWT Hub in order to put an end to illegal wildlife trade. “This world is challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, at the base of which is zoonotic disease. This is the right time to make sure we take steps that can push back on illegal wildlife trade”, he added.
 
David Olson, Director of Conservation at WWF-Hong Kong and Coordinator of Asia-Pacific Counter IWT Hub, said that digital technology also provides new channels for illicit trade within national boundaries, across borders, and between continents. The growing online marketplace in Asia has high volumes of diverse products offered online including elephant ivory, rhino horn, helmeted hornbill casques, marine turtle shells, pangolin scales, tiger parts, and live reptiles, birds, and mammals for exotic pets. Online portals, including public websites, social media, and e-commerce platforms provide easy and convenient channels. Traders take advantage of well-developed supply chains, with courier/logistics companies often unwittingly delivering to buyers. “The launch of WWF’s Counter-Illegal Wildlife Trade Hub could be a game-changer for illegal online trade across Asia-Pacific. However, to ensure impact, we need to secure funding and strong government support and cooperation to combat cybercrime through implementing effective counter-online IWT programs at scale”, he added.
 
The Counter-IWT Hub launch also held a panel discussion with Rob Campbell, Programme Manager of United for Wildlife at the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; Pooyan Shateri Kashi, International Coordinator with the UNODC Container Control Programme; Trin Custodio, CEO, WWF-Philippines, and Brain Gonzales, Head of Protection of Endangered Species at WWF-Hong Kong. They spoke about the importance of public-private partnerships for disrupting IWT, the need to enhance collaboration between stakeholders, and the measures required to enforce effective policy to put an end to illegal wildlife trade.
 
Tobai Sadayosi, CEO, WWF-Japan, and representing WWF’s Asia Pacific Growth Strategy, utilized the recent launch of the IWT Hub to remind key leaders across the region that stamping out the illegal wildlife trade across Asia-Pacific is achievable but will require coordinated efforts and strong government backing. “In launching this much needed Hub across the Asia-Pacific region, WWF will harness our collective networks, intelligence, and influence to test and validate new approaches, whilst expanding on proven techniques to intercept and stamp out the illegal wildlife trade. We invite all sectors of society to join us in not only ending a trade that is cruel and unjust, but also a risk to public health”, he added.

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For any further information, please reach out to:
Asif Sandeelo (asandeelo@wwf.org.pk), and/or
Karen Zhang (karenzhang@wwf.org.hk
Customs officials in Suvarnabhumi discover a shipment of African elephant tusks from Mozambique.
© WWF / James Morgan