The United For Wildlife campaign aims to highlight the slaughter of animals for illegal trade.
David Beckham and Prince William recently launched a campaign to help stigmatise the buying of ivory and rhino horn.
“Our children should not live in a world without elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos. Enough is enough,” said Prince William, who convened the United For Wildlife group, a coalition of global conservation groups. “It is time to choose between critically endangered species and the criminals who kill them for money.”
The sports-themed slogan – “#WhoseSideAreYouOn” – aims to highlight the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals a year that feeds the illegal trade. It is supported by a host of star names, including Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, Rahul Dravid, rugby world cup winner Francois Pienaar and basketball superstar Yao Ming, whose campaign against shark finning is credited with slashing consumption in China.
The United For Wildlife campaign set out its commitment to improve enforcement in February, and the initiative is aimed at increasing public pressure on the consumers of ivory and other illegal wildlife products.
“We knew we needed to do more to bring the illegal wildlife trade into the open,” said Prince William. “It thrives because it is hidden, often invisible, making it easy for criminals to expand their violent greed. We wanted to find a way to show the world what was happening.”
The slaughter of elephants, rhinos, tigers and other species has surged in the last decade, driven by a lucrative illicit trade estimated to be worth between US$5bil (RM16bil)and US$20bil (RM64bil) a year. Only drugs, people and arms trafficking earn more for criminals.
More than 1,000 rangers have been killed in the last decade and the corruption and violence accompanying wildlife crime takes a heavy toll on local communities.
More than 22,000 African elephants were killed in 2012 for their ivory, from a population of about 500,000. Rhinos have been even harder hit, with 1,004 poached in South Africa in 2013 compared to just 13 in 2007. Tiger numbers have plunged by more than 97% in the last century.
Lead ambassador Beckham said he was “passionate” about the cause. “It really is devastating and we are in a world where our generation and the younger generation really can make a difference and we need to do it now,” he said. “Are we on the side of the criminals or are we one the side of the animals?”
Emmanuel de Merode, director of the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was shot by poachers in April but survived. Attending the event in London, he said: “This effort to combat wildlife crime is not just about conservation, you have to picture wildlife crime in the damage overall that is being done to people’s natural resources.
"In Congo there is no more extreme example, because it has provoked a war that has seen the death of over six million innocent people.”
De Merode has seen 130 of his rangers murdered in a decade, as well as massacres of the mountain gorillas for which Virunga is famous. It was also home to the world’s largest population of hippos in the world, but just 350 of the 27,000 have survived.
“This is a war driven by the illegal exploitation of natural resources of which wildlife crime is a part,” he said. “We are not just looking after wildlife, we are looking after people too.”
Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, said campaigns targeting public opinion can be very effective but only if they reach the audiences in the key consuming countries, of which China is the largest. More than 100 million sharks were being killed every year, but the eating of shark fin soup in China has fallen by 50%-70% in the least two years, coinciding with a media campaign fronted by Yao Ming and the banning of the high-status dish from official state dinners.
Knights said attacking the demand for the products of the wildlife trade was crucial, not just fighting to cut the supply with improved enforcement. “They have been doing the on-the-ground stuff for years. But it’s like the drugs trade: you can put trillions of dollars into enforcement but if you the demand is still there you will not solve the problem.”
“Unless the demand stops, the killing will continue,” said M. Sanjayan, senior scientist at Conservation International. “You have to make it unfashionable and who should you get to make it unfashionable? The fashion icons of the world.”
Knights said recent moves against the ivory trade in China were encouraging, including three key retailers taking ivory off their shelves, a series of high-profile destructions of ivory stockpiles and tough new penalties of up to 10 years in jail for wildlife crime. — Guardian News & Media