Following nearly three years of lockdowns and extended quarantine, last week, we attended the United for Wildlife (UfW) Global Summit in London, where we reunited and reconnected with many friends and colleagues working on different aspects of the wildlife trade. Hosted by the Chair of UfW Lord Hague, over 300 attended the event, with representatives from every continent. The aim was to convene UfW partners to share, learn, innovate and collaborate.
We heard from rangers on the frontlines of the poaching crisis in southern Africa, NGOs striving to curb demand in destination countries, leaders from Interpol and the Financial Action Task Force and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Among the many memorable presentations and revelations, we heard from comrades of the late Anton Mzimba, a veteran ranger with 25 years’ service in the Timbavati Nature Reserve who was shot by gunmen at his home in July of this year. It was a sobering reminder of the hundreds of deaths and the risks and mortality of frontline defenders. As one speaker put it, “rangers are buying us time.” He called on attendees to use their time wisely to tackle the criminal syndicates involved in wildlife trafficking.
ADMCF had the pleasure of presenting, alongside our colleagues from WWF-Hong Kong, on the many successes that the Hong Kong Chapter of UfW has had since it was formed two years ago. Hong Kong is unique for being the only jurisdiction with its own Chapter. For example, the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Chapter comprises 20 nations. We took the opportunity to contextualise Hong Kong and to share with our colleagues the staggering scale of trade in the city.
As a picture is worth a 1,000-words, we conveyed the scale of the ongoing situation in Hong Kong with a 2-minute video that can be viewed below. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong retains its position as the global leader in international air freight, one of the world’s busiest trading ports and Mainland China’s 4th largest trade partner.
At the same time, we have also dominated the wildlife trade. Hong Kong is the top importer and exporter of wildlife used in fashion. Under CITES, it holds the top spot in imports of Saiga horns, American crocodile meat, American ginseng roots, White sturgeon caviar, Reticulated python meat, amongst others. In the context of the live animal trade, Hong Kong is a leading global importer of live reptiles and imported at least 4 million live exotics from 705 species for pet trade between 2015 and 2019.
As such, Hong Kong Chapter is important and has proven to be successful in leveraging the abilities, networks and resources of each member, resulting in successful legislative reforms; the development of toolkits, training materials and other assets to assist both the financial and shipping sectors; and collaborative investigations of known wildlife criminal networks.
The event also saw calls to consider expanding the mission and work of UfW. Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation encouraged UfW to support the development of global databases of both the legal and illegal wildlife trades. Indeed, one of the major challenges participants see is the lack of data, which has long hampered the work of governments, NGOs and the private sector, preventing them from fully appreciating the scale, complexity and pervasiveness of these trades.
John Scanlon, Chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, also took the opportunity to raise the need to look beyond just “iconic species” such as elephants, rhinos and lions. He encouraged those assembled to look to how the mission of UfW and partners could be expanded to cover not just the 38,700 species regulated under CITES, but the millions of species that inhabit the planet alongside humans and the trafficking of non-CITES species.
HRH the Prince of Wales concluded the summit by remarking that while the world does not have “the luxury of time to tackle it”, it does have “a proven roadmap to success and the motivation to put it into action.” Hong Kong has been a proving ground for many of these successes and we will continue to develop strategies and blueprints to tackle wildlife crimes in Hong Kong and around the world.