Save Wildlife: Act Now or Game Over

Today is the third World Wildlife Day, which celebrates and raises awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. This year, the Day is organized around the theme: “The future of wildlife is in our hands.” Over the past three days, the Hague Institute, in collaboration with the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, organized The Hague Conference Save Wildlife: Act Now or Game Over.

Connecting to the theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day, the goal of the conference was to encourage discussions between stakeholders from around the world representing different sectors to create a shared commitment towards an action-oriented approach to preventing and combatting wildlife crime. It was organized around two themes: law enforcement and sustainable livelihoods and economic development, examining in particular the need to adopt approaches that combine these two.

The conference was opened by Minister Martijn van Dam, State Secretary for Economic Affairs of the Netherlands. Subsequently, Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute, gave his opening remarks, underscoring the need for multi-stakeholder governance, noting that “we must adopt innovative and flexible arrangements that allow different types of stakeholders to bring their unique strengths to bear upon conservation efforts.” Further keynote speeches were given by the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

On the first day The Hague Institute organized a plenary panel, which examined the nexus between law enforcement and sustainable development. Moderated by Professor Louise Fresco (Wageningen University), the panel featured presentations by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit, African Parks, and the International Institute for Environment and Development. Panelists touched on issues of community engagement,  eductation, the legislation needed and how to develop law enforcement responses that do not negatively impact local communities.

On the second day, The Hague Institute organized two working groups. The purpose of the working groups was to translate knowledge and commitment into concrete action and promote engagement among different stakeholders. To this end, both sessions were designed in a way to maximize interaction. The session started with a multiple rounds of ‘speed dating’, enabling the participants to share key information on what they could offer and what they were looking for to identify potential partners for wildlife deals. The second part of the session comprised the presentation of existing initiatives, with the objective of expanding or replicating these initiatives in different contexts. The final part of the working group was dedicated to breakout sessions which featured discussions on potential wildlife deals and opportunities to establish new cooperation.

Participants from the working group on technology. Photo:  Valerie Kuypers

The first working group, entitled “Technology as the New Frontier for Responding to Wildlife Trafficking”, focused on the challenges and opportunities of using technological innovation to protect wildlife and improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The session was moderated by the Swedish State Secretary for Environment and Energy Gunvor Ericson and hosted about 45 participants that represented several communities of practice, including academia, NGOs, private sectors and governments. The session included spotlight presentations by Smart Park, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), which presented existing or upcoming initiatives that combined efforts to prevent poaching by studying the reaction of wildlife to predators by the use of sensors (Smart Park) to innovative tools to collect evidence and data to strengthen law enforcement and crime prosecution (NSCR) to conclude with the creation of the International Wildlife Forensic Academy to improve forensic cooperation and training at international level. The working group concluded with the signing of 3 wildlife deals, which build on the initiatives presented above by broadening partnerships and extending cooperation to new areas and skills.

The second working group organized by the Hague Institute dealt with “The Role of Effective Governance in Preventing and Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.” Moderated by Rob Sijstermans (Clingendael), around seventy participants discussed how issues of corruption, fraud, and money laundering, can be addressed through cooperation between and within governments, as well as civil society and the private sector. By bringing together stakeholders from around the world and from a large variety of sectors, the working group stimulated frank interactions on these important topics and resulted in the sharing of expertise and experiences. In particular, participants noted the importance of the detection of these crimes, tapping into both governmental and non-governmental sources of information, and the cooperation between different elements of the government, to ensure effective prosecutions for those facilitating wildlife crime. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the FIOD (Netherlands Tax Investigation Agency), and the Dutch Public Prosecutor, presented on existing efforts within both a source country and a destination/transit country.

On the third day, World Wildlife Day, Dr. Abi Williams moderated a high-level discussion with over forty government delegates, private sector executives, and NGO representatives.  During the high-level discussions, delegates had an opportunity to give feedback on the concept of the wildlife deals, a selection of the wildlife deals concluded, and elaborated on how they would take these actions forward in the coming years, particularly as they related to the implementation of the EU Wildlife Action Plan, the CITES Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg, and the conference in Hanoi later this year.

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