The illegal trade in wildlife products is estimated to be worth billions of dollars per year and is one of the most profitable transnational criminal activities globally. Despite efforts to protect wildlife from illegal trade at the local, national, regional and international levels, several iconic species remain endangered. Engaging and encouraging local communities to find sustainable solutions for wildlife conservation, together with strengthened law enforcement measures, is essential for a comprehensive response to the challenge of protecting wildlife from illegal trade.

The challenges to the survival of wildlife are multifaceted. Apart from exacerbating environmental degradation, the illegal trade in wildlife adversely affects indigenous groups and vulnerable communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. At the same time, local hunters and subsistence farmers often rely on the trade of wildlife products for survival.

The plurality of actors and interests involved indicates that there is a need for generating awareness, creating alternative and durable sources of income, and facilitating economic development in order to conserve wildlife. Facilitating sustainable livelihoods and economic development prevents targeting vulnerable actors disproportionately and addresses the root causes of the problem.

International legal frameworks intended to tackle wildlife trafficking have been implemented with varying degrees of success. A comprehensive approach to addressing wildlife trafficking that will conserve wildlife and prevent impunity for prime offenders requires measures to prevent and combat the criminal aspects of the wildlife trade using the triad of criminal law, environmental law and trade law. This will require a strong and coordinated enforcement response at the site, community, national and international levels, and in source, transit and destination countries, using the full capacity of institutions and available tools and techniques. Consequently, local, national, regional and international legal and policy frameworks, as well as their enforcement, must be strengthened to enhance their deterrent effect. Efforts must start early in the criminal justice chain, by focusing on innovative investigative technologies and forensic techniques, as well as building the local capacity necessary to make effective use of these methods. Finally, there is a need to enforce measures to counter corruption and money-laundering, which facilitate wildlife trafficking.

Save Wildlife: Act Now or Game Over

In this context, The Hague Institute for Global Justice is pleased to cooperate with the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands and the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit to organize an international conference on wildlife crime from 1-3 March 2016. The conference, Save Wildlife: Act Now or Game Over, will focus on how to solve the challenges outlined above:  sustainable livelihoods and economic development, and strengthening law enforcement. In addition to these two themes, the conference will give particular attention to the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking.

Participants will have the opportunity to join in working groups to forge connections and build multi-stakeholder networks to design and implement innovative measures (i.e. Wildlife Deals) to conserve wildlife as a matter of urgency. The conference will comprise a combination of plenary and working group sessions, where participants will have a chance to learn but also actively contribute to shaping new policies and practice and come up with concrete actionable measures.

In particular, The Hague Institute will co-organize the following high-level plenary discussion and working group sessions in order to take stock of the progress achieved in wildlife conservation, and to agree on concrete, actionable measures to protect wildlife.

Plenary Panel: Preventing and Combatting Wildlife Trafficking – The Role of Law Enforcement and Sustainable Development

This plenary panel discussion will focus on the effective prevention and combat of the illegal trade in wildlife, which requires a comprehensive approach that combines law enforcement measures with efforts to facilitate sustainable livelihoods and economic development. Strong and coordinated law enforcement responses at the site, community, national and international levels, and in source, transit and destination countries can help to ensure accountability of perpetrators and deter future offenders. Sustainable development initiatives can facilitate wildlife conservation by raising awareness and building the capacities of local communities to identify and develop viable alternative livelihoods. This panel will explore how to combine adequately law enforcement and sustainable development efforts in order to address the root causes of wildlife crime, empower vulnerable groups, and save wildlife. This will be done by examining several practical initiatives and situating them within broader theoretical and policy frameworks. Key elements of this plenary discussion will be explored further in working groups on Day 1, in order to identify concrete, actionable measures to conserve wildlife.

Working Group: The Role of Effective Governance in Preventing and Combatting Wildlife Trafficking

Weak and ineffective governance can create conditions that allow the illegal trade in wildlife to flourish. In turn, wildlife trafficking can have a detrimental impact on the health of governance systems and processes. Organized criminal groups are often able to circumvent law enforcement officials through sophisticated fraud or bribery, and frequently launder the illegal proceeds of the trade in wildlife products. The impact of fraud and corruption related to the illegal trade in wildlife can be pervasive, undermining the rule of law, depleting national wealth, impeding economic development, lowering the tax base and creating serious risks to human and environmental security. Strengthening governance systems and processes is therefore imperative. This working group seeks to learn from countries and organizations that have been successful in this regard, and conclude several “wildlife deals.” These “deals” will bring together different configurations of stakeholders to design and implement joint actions that prevent and/or combat wildlife trafficking through more effective governance.

Working Group: Technology as the New Frontier for Responding to Wildlife Trafficking

As trafficking in wildlife becomes more organized and sophisticated, law enforcement and sustainable development actors must improve their efforts accordingly. Those attempting to prevent and combat the illegal trade in wildlife must devise innovative systems for predictive analysis, intelligence gathering, and monitoring of all facets of the crime including the procurement of products from protected areas. New technologies can advance prevention of wildlife crime, law enforcement and support strategies to reduce demand and raise awareness among consumers and local communities. Developments in the fields of technology and communications offer new possibilities for effective action, for example, through digital monitoring systems and more efficient data collection to prevent wildlife crime. Affordable and accessible communications tools can assist in tracking transit routes, sharing information in real-time and better coordinating responses to poaching and illegal logging. In addition, new technologies can facilitate the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes by providing more reliable evidence. This working group will provide a platform for IT experts, law enforcement officials, civil society organizations, academics and private sector representatives to agree upon “wildlife deals,” which represent shared, multistakeholder commitments to exchange knowledge and develop innovative ways to use technology to improve the prevention and combat of wildlife crime and ensure the conservation of endangered flora and fauna.

Participants will have the opportunity to join in working groups to forge connections and build multi-stakeholder networks to design and implement innovative measures (i.e. Wildlife Deals) to conserve wildlife as a matter of urgency.