High-level Debate on Illegal Wildlife Trade

4 March 2015, General Assembly

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we stand together to mark World Wildlife Day and to develop more effective partnerships at global, regional and local levels, let me start by commemorating the rangers and scouts who over the past year have lost their lives, or have been seriously injured, battling organized crime groups whilst protecting the world’s natural resources. In so doing, let us together commend the thousands of front-line officers in Africa, Nepal, South East Asia, Mexico and elsewhere who, on a daily basis, risk their lives so future generations can enjoy wildlife and biological diversity in its natural habitat.

Wildlife and forest crime has become a transnational organized crime, ranking up there with the trafficking of human beings, drugs and arms, in terms of its capacity to cause severe social instability, spoil sustainable development prospects, and undermine justice and human rights of entire local communities.

The transnational nature of wildlife trafficking makes these criminal activities highly relevant to the mandates and work of the UN, particularly within the framework of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

In Vienna and elsewhere, Member States have sent a very clear message to UNODC.  In 2013, the ECOSOC Resolution 2013/40 entitled “Crime prevention and criminal justice response to illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora”, urges us all to help Member States prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute illicit trafficking in wild flora and fauna-- and to consider making illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora a “serious crime”.  It identified a series of essential activities, such as developing legislation and criminal justice systems that can effectively investigate, prosecute and sentence criminal actors in source countries and also in end-markets. By calling for a 4 year sentence for perpetrators of wildlife crimes, the resolution triggered the application of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and allows for greater international cooperation to combat this crime.


One year ago, we commemorated World Wildlife Day for the first time.  Since then, we have witnessed a number of arrests of high- profile criminals, including the arrest of the most wanted ringleader of a poachers’ network in Nepal, and of the leader of an ivory smuggling ring in East Africa.  These arrests are encouraging.  Let us continue working together, so these successful examples of the rule of law at work do not constitute “isolated wins” but become more... read more

at the Ceremony Celebrating World Wildlife Day

Monday 3 March 2014 at 12.30 hrs, Palais des Nations, Geneva

H.E. Mr. Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation,
H.E. Minister Hugo Swire,
H.E. Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi,

Mr. John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES,
Ms. Ruth Hahn-Weinert,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be able to join you here in Geneva today to celebrate the very first World Wildlife Day, which is a tribute to our natural and cultural heritage. At the outset, I would like to thank the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for bringing us together on this special occasion. I also extend my appreciation to UNEP, the Good Planet Foundation and the Permanent Missions of Switzerland, Thailand and the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who have helped organize this exhibition.

In recognition of the numerous contributions of wildlife to sustainable development and human well-being, the General Assembly last year proclaimed 3 March as World Wildlife Day, which is also the same date that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was adopted in 1973.

And indeed, the world’s wild fauna and flora ought to be celebrated for they bring so much to our human family. The exhibition we open today illustrates how animals, insects, plants and trees are all unique pieces forming the beautiful mosaic of our natural environment. Not only do they sustain our livelihoods, they are an integral part of our cultural heritage through tales and legends, symbols and traditions. In the complex symphony of nature, each and every species plays an essential part to maintain the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems.

Yet these many gifts are increasingly under threat as unsustainable production and consumption patterns put this irreplaceable natural heritage under enormous strain. Poaching and illegal wildlife trade add to these pressures and constitute serious offenses often linked to corruption and organized crime. Every day an estimated 150 to 200 species of plants, insects animals become extinct. These losses not only affect our ecosystems, they also threaten our health, our food supplies and our economies.

On this first World Wildlife Day, I call on Member States to renew their commitment to the protection and conservation of biodiversity and to actively combat illegal wildlife trade. As we now begin shaping the contours of a new... read more

Informal Plenary Meeting to Celebrate World Wildlife Day

UN General Assembly

Intervention by John E. Scanlon
Secretary-General of CITES


President of the General Assembly, H.E Mr. Sam Kutesa
Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Jan Eliasson
Distinguished Panelists and Delegates


We would like to express our sincere thanks to you President Kutesa, and to Member States, for convening this Informal Plenary Meeting to celebrate World Wildlife Day 2015, which has as its theme ‘It’s time to get serious about wildlife crime.’

Yesterday the Permanent Missions of Gabon, Germany and Thailand hosted an event at the Central Park Zoo that was supported by many UN agencies and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The UN agencies have worked as one in preparing for World Wildlife Day 2015, and international and national organizations of all persuasions have joined in this collective effort.  The benefits of working together can be seen today with tens of millions of people being reached through our combined efforts at using social media, which included reaching 150 million people through Twitter alone.

The scale and nature of illegal wildlife trade have changed over recent years and so is the global response.

Illegal wildlife trade now increasingly involves transnational organized criminals and in some cases rebel militia and rouge elements of the military, which has changed the dynamics of combating this highly destructive criminal activity, in particular as it relates to some mega-fauna, such as elephants, and high-value flora, such as rosewood. It also threatens many lesser know species, such as the pangolin

The profound impact this poaching and illegal trade is having upon entire species and ecosystems, local peoples and their livelihoods, national economies, and national and regional security is now increasingly well recognized. It is no longer solely a conservation issue – it is a sustainable development issue and one that impacts all three dimensions of sustainable development.

In June 2012, Heads of State and government at Rio+20 explicitly recognized the economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit trafficking in wildlife, the need to take action on both the supply and demand sides, and the important role of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Rio+20 also described CITES as an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development and it is recognized as the principal legal instrument that underpins collective global efforts.

In March 2013 CITES Parties heeded the call from Rio+20, when over 2,500 delegates from 174 States and observers... read more

at the Ceremony Celebrating World Wildlife Day

Monday 3 March 2014 at 12.30 hrs, Palais des Nations, Geneva

President of the General Assembly
Acting Head of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Geneva. Switzerland is proud to host the CITES Secretariat and it is an honour for us that the authors of the Convention chose our country as depositary state. It is a privilege to be involved with the organisation of this first commemoration of World Wildlife Day.

Headquartered in Geneva, the CITES Secretariat benefits from the proximity of a multitude of international organisations, UN agencies, first class academic institutions and an engaged civil society. The activities of all these actors are essential for making the most of potential synergies in sustainable development.

I can but confirm Switzerland’s increased commitment to maintaining the Lake Geneva region’s assets for the international community in a lasting manner.

Wildlife is increasingly threatened. The extinction of some species is natural, but it has taken on alarming proportions. We are the first generation on earth that can name the species which have become extinct in our lifetimes. Every year, more types of flora and fauna disappear and thousands of species are threatened with imminent extinction.

Biodiversity is at the core of the earth’s life support systems. Sustainable, wise management of the earth’s riches is crucial for poverty eradication, ensuring global food security and human health, and creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work.

Concern for wildlife, and sustainable use of wildlife, can make a difference to poor and vulnerable groups, which are often disproportionately affected by the consequences of unsustainable management of natural resources. The CITES – in conjunction with other international instruments – strikes a balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development and thus has the potential to make a difference to people’s livelihoods.

However, we must not let these efforts be frustrated by unlawful activities. Poaching and its potential ties to other criminal activities and even terrorism is a grave menace to sustainable peace and security. The growing links between poaching, weapons proliferation and regional insecurity are worrying.

Human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential for equitable and sustainable development.

I agree with the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and the environment, John Knox, in stressing that human rights are vulnerable to environmental degradation, in that the full... read more

at the Ceremony Celebrating World Wildlife Day

Monday 3 March 2014 at 12.30 hrs, Palais des Nations, Geneva

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour to be here, and I am grateful to the Good Planet Foundation for the wonderful prints they have provided today.

I want to say a few words about the importance the United Kingdom attaches to ending the illegal wildlife trade.

It is not just an environmental crisis.  It is a global criminal industry that drives corruption, insecurity and undermines efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development.  There is even anecdotal evidence that terrorism could benefit from it.  Tackling it would build growth, rule of law, stability and good governance.

That is why the UK supports the vital work of CITES under the admirable leadership of John Scanlon

That is why we applaud Thailand and CITES’ initiative to establish World Wildlife Day,

And that is why the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, hosted the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade two weeks ago, in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

I am delighted the conference was such a success.  It agreed ambitious measures, showed new political commitment and marked a turning point in the effort to halt, and reverse, the current poaching crisis.

For the first time, governments committed to renouncing the use of products from animals threatened with extinction.

They agreed to support the current CITES commercial prohibition on the international ivory trade until the survival of elephants in the wild is no longer threatened

And they agreed to treat poaching and wildlife trafficking as serious organised crime – like  trafficking in drugs, arms and people.

After the conference, the work continues.  Chad burned its 1.1 ton ivory stockpile. Vietnam strengthened its protection of endangered species. The UK added Anguilla to the list of UK Overseas Territories covered by CITES.  And we welcome Botswana’s offer to host a follow conference next year.

But there is much more to do.  And we strongly encourage countries that were not present at the Conference to associate themselves with the London Declaration.

So my message is simple: the illegal wildlife trade must stop now.

Together, the international community can stop it.  And if we act on the... read more

at the Ceremony Celebrating World Wildlife Day

Monday 3 March 2014 at 12.30 hrs, Palais des Nations, Geneva

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the co-organizers of this photo exhibition, permit me first of all to thank for their presence here today Their Excellencies the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Swiss Confederation, and the Minister of State of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom.

Such a high-level participation is a clear indication of the importance attached by the international community to the protection of wildlife.

On Thailand’s part, wildlife has long been prioritised by the Government, as we recognize the strong link between the environment and wildlife conservation to sustainable trade and development, and the welfare of the people.

Like many countries, however, Thailand also faces challenges.  Top on our agenda is tackling the problem of illegal ivory trade, an issue on which we are currently working closely with the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other partners.

Indeed, this was one of the many issues discussed at the Sixteenth CITES Conference of the Parties held in Bangkok exactly one year ago today. The Conference, which also marked the 40th anniversary of CITES itself, was also a timely opportunity not only to take stock of the work done over the past four decades since the Convention’s signing in Washington, but also to recommit ourselves to tackling the challenges that remain, to raise awareness, as well as to promote international and national action, and the Convention’s universalization.  Given its importance, Thailand’s resolution proposing the third of March as World Wildlife Day was unanimously adopted by the Conference.

And with the help of our friends from the Group of 77 and China and other co-sponsors, we were also able to carry on the momentum of that COP at the General Assembly which this past December also unanimously proclaimed today, the third of March, the day of CITES’ adoption, as World Wildlife Day.

As I conclude, I wish to reiterate once again Thailand’s commitment and readiness to work with the international community to protect our wildlife.

I also wish to place on record our appreciation to our co-hosts without whom this event would not have been possible, namely, the Permanent Mission of the Swiss... read more

Remarks at opening of the High-level Stakeholder Dialogue on Illegal Wildlife Trade

Monday 3 March 2015, WCS Central Park Zoo, New York

“It’s time to get serious about wildlife crime”

Hon. Ambassadors from Gabon, Germany and Thailand
Hon. President of the UN Environment Assembly, Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren
Distinguished guests
Friends and colleagues

It is wonderful to see so many people from Permanent Missions, UN agencies, international and national organizations and the media all here today.

We are most grateful to our three host Missions, Gabon, Germany and Thailand and to all other supporting organizations, including WCS.


I am sure everyone here today has seen graphic images of elephant and rhino slaughtered for their ivory and horn – a tragic crime scene that is being replicated every day across their range.

These images capture the brutal impact on these majestic animals – what they do not reveal is the profound impact this poaching and illicit trafficking is having upon entire species and ecosystems, local peoples and their livelihoods, national economies, and national and regional security.

Nor do they reveal the faces of the transnational organized criminal gangs and in some cases rebel militia who are driving this illicit activity – corrupting officials all along the way, recruiting local poachers, and reaping high profits off shore at the expense of local communities, national economies and ecosystems. And it does not show how their ill-gotten gains are invested in all manner of criminal activities. 

Disturbingly, the same observation could be made about many more species of animals and plants – well know species as well as species many people may never have heard of.

The crisis we are confronting is not the result of a natural phenomenon like a drought, a flood or a cyclone.  It is the direct result of what people are doing. People alone are the cause of this serious threat to wildlife and people must be the solution.

And I would like to spend a few moments to focus on the human element – and there are perhaps three human traits that are primary drivers of this illegal trade: greed, ignorance and indifference.  

Greed – this is the greed of the transnational organized criminals and in some cases rebel militia who peruse profit with no regard for people or wildlife.  They are not influenced by images of dead animals or impoverished people – just as those trading in narcotics are not affected by images of the multiple... read more


at the Ceremony Celebrating World Wildlife Day

Monday 3 March 2014 at 12.30 hrs, Palais des Nations, GenevaYour Excellency Mr. Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation,

Your Excellency Mr. John William Ashe, President of the United Nations General Assembly,
Your Excellency Mr. Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the United Kingdom Foreign and  Commonwealth Office,
Permanent Representative of Thailand Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi,
Mr. John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES,
Special guest, Mr. Yann Arthus-Bertrand,
Excellencies and distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to join you on this first World Wildlife Day. The General Assembly chose March 3rd because it is the date of adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

I thank the Government of Thailand, which is generously co-hosting this event with the United Kingdom and Switzerland, for bringing this recommendation to the General Assembly.

People and cultures have relied for millennia on nature’s rich diversity of wild plants and animals for food, clothing, medicine and spiritual sustenance. Wildlife is integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation. It is intrinsic to our continued heritage and sustainable development. That is why one of the Millennium Development Goal targets is to significantly reduce biodiversity decline.

Yet, despite this commitment, wildlife is under threat. The causes include: deforestation and habitat degradation; climate change and changes in land use; overconsumption on land and sea; and illegal trafficking of wild plants and animals. This is economically, socially and environmentally damaging. It is important that we raise awareness not just of the value of wildlife but its sad decline in our modern world. One way is through exhibitions such as this.

I would like to acknowledge our distinguished guest Yann-Arthus Bertrand. Mr. Bertrand has long been a valued ambassador for the UN. As a photographer, journalist, film-maker and environmentalist, he has been bearing witness to the Earth’s beauty for half a century. His pictures are worth thousands of words. In this exhibition we see dancing mantas, magnificent elephants, iconic apes and majestic trees. Sadly, many of the world’s most charismatic species, as well as lesser known but ecologically important plants and animals, are in immediate danger of extinction. That is why I encourage the world’s citizens to think... read more