Leaders of several cargo transportation companies have signed a declaration which commits them not to “knowingly facilitate or tolerate the carriage of [illegal wildlife products]”.
The declaration was signed by members of the United for Wildlife transport taskforce at Buckingham Palace in London.
The container terminal operators and carriers who signed the agreement were: China Cosco Shipping, DP World, Hamburg Sud and the Maersk Group.
The declaration commits the signatories to adopt, or encourage the adoption of, a zero-tolerance policy to illegal wildlife trade; to increase awareness of the trade and to encourage the whole transport sector to sign up to the declaration.
It also commits signatories to develop information-sharing mechanisms, enhance data systems for detection of illegal trade, promote systems for staff and public to report suspicions and improve staff training.
Signatories have also promised to work with customs and law enforcement authorities.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF): “The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains.” For example, rhino poaching in South Africa has increased by 7,700% between 2007 and 2013 (from 13 to 1,004 rhinos).
The WWF identify several wildlife trade hotspots: “China’s international borders, trade hubs in East/Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the European Union, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. DP World, APM Terminals and China Cosco all operate terminals in several of these hotspots.
According to a report authored by Nigel South and Tanya Watt, of the Universities of Essex and Northumbria respectively, wildlife is sometimes smuggled using forged paperwork which makes a shipment appear legal. It can also be smuggled by being hidden in a container or by paying bribes to gain access to containers and to avoid inspection.
Tanya Wyatt told CM: “I think the declaration is a great step and, if transport companies, actually follow through with their commitments it may be effective in helping to reduce illegal wildlife trade.”
“They should also adopt a zero tolerance policy towards corruption,” she continued, “so anyone found taking bribes or smuggling is prosecuted and this is made very public.”
Nigel South added: “Greater awareness will help and more rigorous use of intervention techniques can make an impact – as seems to have happened in some parts of the drug market. However, as with drugs, you are still unable to be certain how much is missed and gets through.”
“Containerisation is like many technologies with a crime story to tell,” South continued, “it safeguards contents from point of departure to point of arrival because the container is sealed and (usually) no one examines the contents. That also makes it an excellent vehicle for smuggling.”
Press coverage of the campaign was overshadowed, at least in Britain, by the involvement of the British Prince William, who has previously justified trophy hunting.