Charles: Take wildlife gang profits

12:50am Thursday 13th February 2014

© Press Association 2014

The Prince of Wales has suggested that to combat organised gangs in the illegal wildlife trade countries should take back their "ill-gotten gains".

Charles's comments came as he gave a major speech at a conference of world leaders gathered to tackle the threat to endangered animals like tigers, elephants and rhinos.

With his sons the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry by his side, the Prince told the summit that the scale of the poaching crisis had reached "unimaginable heights" in certain countries, and there was "not a moment to lose" to safeguard threatened species.

Charles, a long-term campaigner on wildlife conservation, praised the leaders and foreign government ministers for meeting at Lancaster House in London to address the issue.

He said: "Today, if I may say so, you are breaking new ground by coming together and committing - at high levels never before seen at a conference on this topic - to take urgent action to put a stop to this trade, which has become a grave threat not only to the wildlife and the people who protect them, but also to the security of nations."

He added: "Next month, I hope it will be possible to convene a meeting to encourage governments, banks, accounting firms, security agencies and others to make greater use of financial tools to tackle organised crime engaged in the illegal wildlife trade.

"As many experts are telling us, if we 'follow the money' and take back organised crime's ill-gotten gains - now done of course to combat trafficking in drugs, weapons and people - we can send a strong message to criminals that there are serious consequences when they kill endangered wildlife for profit."

Charles told the delegates he played a part in helping to bring them together after a group of African leaders, including president Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, who is attending the conference, contacted him for help.

He said: "The situation they described was indeed dire. The scale of the poaching crisis their countries were facing had reached unimaginable heights.

"Organised gangs, terrorist groups and militia were slaughtering ever greater numbers of elephants for their ivory and rhinoceros for their horns. Most threatened of all, they said, is the elephant - an integral part of the ecological and social fabric of the African continent and a keystone species."

The Prince said Asia's wildlife was also being decimated but he gave an example of how successful anti-poaching campaigns could have results.

He said: "Late in the last decade, an aggressive public campaign led by WildAid and Chinese athlete Yao Ming - combined with government bans on the use of shark fin soup at government functions - caused a dramatic drop in public demand for the product."

The Prince concluded by saying: "There is not a moment to lose if we are to save species whose loss will not only diminish us all, but also expose their abandoned habitat to ever greater risk of destruction, with dire consequences for humanity."

William and Charles have played a major role in a series of wildlife conservation initiatives this week.

The Duke addressed a symposium of leading conservationists gathered by his United for Wildlife umbrella organisation yesterday, and the royal father and son have starred in a video calling on the world to turn its back on illegally traded animal parts like ivory and rhino horn.

Prime Minister David Cameron was due to speak at the conference but his attendance was cut short so he could focus on the flooding in southern England.

Mr Cameron dropped in at the summit but did not pose with the delegates and the royals for a "family photo", and met leaders behind the scenes.

Before the day-long conference began Charles, William and Harry were shown a display of seized animal parts, from a tiger head and skin and rhino horn to bear bile and the skin of a Nile crocodile.

Grant Miller, a senior officer with the Border Force, told the royal party about a recent seizure of ivory hidden in ball bearing parts and 12 live San Salvador rock iguanas from the Bahamas found in the luggage of two passengers stopped at Heathrow Airport.

He said later: "These are critically endangered. If you had a breeding pair they would be priceless - better than finding a tiger in a suitcase."

It is hoped that the nations will sign a declaration that will commit them to a range of goals to combat poaching and illegal trade in animal parts.

In a short address Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined the steps the conference would agree to take to tackle the "unprecedented crisis".

He said there was "some evidence to show how insurgent or terrorist groups can benefit from the trade" in endangered species, but the conference would result in a "powerful declaration that will demonstrate to the world that we will not tolerate this abhorrent trade".

The governments present would commit themselves to "renounce the use of any products from species threatened with extinction". They would also support the ban on the trade in elephant ivory until the survival of animals in the wild is no longer threatened by poaching.

Mr Hague said the countries represented would "commit ourselves to treat poaching and trafficking as a serious, organised crime in the same category as drugs, arms or people trafficking".

He said: "Poachers think they can act with impunity. We will show them they are wrong.

"There should be no weak link, we will all seek out those who commit these atrocious acts and use the full force of our national and international laws to break these criminal empires."

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