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Prince William: Wildlife Poachers ‘Looting Planet’

  • Henry Ridgwell

In a passionate speech at the World Bank in Washington Monday, Britain’s Prince William made a plea for the world to do more to tackle wildlife poaching — and linked the problem to terrorism.

Illegal poaching for products like rhino horn and ivory has driven many iconic species close to extinction. In South Africa, conservationists say a record 1,020 rhinos have been killed in 2014 alone. The total population for the whole of Africa is estimated at just over 5,000.

Addressing the International Corruption Hunters Alliance conference, the Duke of Cambridge, an established conservationist who proposed to Kate Middleton while on holiday in a Kenyan game reserve, announced the formation of a task force to combat the trade.

“Specifically designed to work with the transport industry — from airlines to shipping lines — to examine its role in the illegal wildlife trade and identify means by which the sector can break the chain between suppliers and consumers," he said.

The prince also accused organized criminals of looting the planet to feed what he called mankind's "ignorant craving for exotic pets, trinkets, cures and ornaments."

“Criminal gangs turn vast profits from the illegal killing or capture of wildlife; armed groups and terrorists swap poached ivory for guns; and middle-men oil the wheels of the trade in return for reward,” he said.

That link between poaching and armed groups and terrorists is gaining increasing attention. In Kenya in recent weeks, Islamist al-Shabab militants based in Somalia have killed dozens of Kenyans in attacks on a bus and on non-Muslims working in a quarry.

At a recent conference on conservation and security, Kenya’s Secretary of State for the Environment Judi Wakhungu said the two issues can be viewed through the same policy lens.

“We share some very sensitive borders with countries such as Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia," she said. "Some of these problems have meant that we have faced increased levels of terrorism. And we do think that there is a connection to increased poaching.”

The fledgling concept of treating security threats and poaching as problems with similar policies has become known as Stabilcon — stabilization through conservation. Indigenous populations are central, says Ian Saunders, the brainchild of Stabilcon and founder of the Kenyan Tsavo Trust.

“To work at a human level, to provide an area that is conducive to both wildlife and humans into perpetuity, is vital for the stabilization of Kenya and the future of Kenya, and the future of many other countries,” he said.

Africa’s wildlife draws millions of tourists. But Saunders argues that wildlife must be protected for reasons beyond tourism — and that conservation can bring security.

With poaching expanding at an alarming rate, the search for a solution is becoming ever more urgent.

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