Side-event: Introductory remarks by Ambassador Wittig on Illicit Wildlife Trafficking

Dec 12, 2012

(Introductory remarks delivered by Ambassador Wittig at the launch of the WWF report on Illicit Wildlife Trafficking)

"Dear Ambassador Messone, Excellencies, dear Panelists and Colleagues,

It is a great pleasure and honor for me to welcome you at the German mission for a discussion on illicit wildlife trafficking. I am happy that you, Ambassador Messone, have agreed to host this event jointly with Germanyand the WWF. I welcome Mr. Roberts, President of the World Wildlife Fund, who will lead us through the event and will present to us the latest report on illicit wildlife trafficking commissioned by the WWF.

I also have the honor to welcome Mr. Robert Hormats, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment at the US Department of State, Professor Lee White, Executive Secretary of the National Park Agency of Gabon, General Ella Ekogha, Chief of Staff of the Gabonese armed forces, and Dr. Lixin Huang, President of the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

The rapid increase in the poaching and smuggling of numerous rare and endangered species around the world is cause for alarm. Strong demand for rhino horn and ivory in particular has become a driving force behind this development.

Let me give you some recent figures: 2011 was the highest year on record for elephant poaching; ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 elephants— was confiscated in 2011; and the illegal poaching of rhinos surged to a record high in 2011, with a final death toll of 448 rhinos in Southern Africa alone. This year this trend continues. In 2007 only 13 rhinos were killed by poachers – an increase of more than 3000% within 4 years. There may be as few as 3,200 wild tigers left in the world - and the increase in poaching makes extinction of tiger species a very real threat.

Poaching is an organized crime, which is more profitable than ever. Ivory costs up to $1,000 per pound and rhino horns are up to approximately $30,000 per pound . Demand is growing for different reasons, one of them being the continuing myth of the medical effects of treatment with rhino horns. Trade in protected species promises enormous profits with little risk. This provides fertile ground for the growth of well-organized criminal bands and cartels.

Illegal Wildlife trafficking is not only a serious crime: Poaching occurs across boarders and constitutes a threat to regional stability, territorial integrity and sustainable social and economic development of the countries concerned. Trafficking in illegal wildlife products today can be considered as professionalized and lucrative as drug and human trafficking. In order to successfully combat this development, we urgently need new strategies and more international efforts across political and institutional lines. This is why we have to rethink our approach.

Germany is strongly committed to international biodiversity conservation and has in recent years continuously increased funding of projects. Germanysupports projects strengthening law enforcement in African countries and cross-border cooperation, as well as awareness raising measures in Asian countries.

With respect to the protection of African elephants and the struggle against poaching and illegal trade in ivory, African states adopted the African Elephant Action Plan in 2007. Germanysupports its implementation financially.

In addition, Germanyis carrying out a project to develop a method to determine the origin and age of ivory. This instrument will be of use to customs and criminal prosecutors and will be made available to all countries of origin and sale. It will contribute to uncovering the structures and pathways of ivory smuggling.

Germany was also the main sponsor of a proposal “Conservation of African elephants”, adopted by a large majority at the recent World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in September in Jeju (Korea).

Our side event today aims to achieve two objectives: We want to raise awareness that illicit wildlife trafficking is a serious transnational organized crime which requires a more significant and dedicated response. And we want to initiate a discussion about how the UN can contribute more effectively to address this issue.

During today´s event, the WWF will launch a report, which gives valuable insight into these dramatic developments. The report provides a thorough analysis of illicit wildlife trafficking and its economic, social and other implications, and it contains key policy recommendations. I recommend careful studying of the report to all of you. It is a wake up call we can not ignore.

I am looking forward to a lively discussion. Thank you!"

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