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Ivory Trade

Volume 750: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the worldwide trade of ivory and its impact on the elephant and rhinoceros populations in Africa.

My Lords, a few years ago the subject of this debate might have been regarded as rather marginal in terms of importance; that is no longer the case. In introducing this debate I should declare an interest as a friend of the Whitley Fund for Nature, a charity concerned with conservation worldwide.

Illegal trade in wildlife has grown to become a massive global industry. It is said to be worth at least $90 billion per year and is ranked as the fourth largest global illegal activity after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking, and ahead of oil, art, gold, human organs, small arms and diamonds. Illegal ivory trade activity worldwide has more than doubled since 2007, and is now more than three times larger than it was in 1998—its highest level in two decades—with ivory fetching up to $1,000 a pound, or $2,205 a kilogram, on the streets of Beijing.

The worst year on record for elephant ivory seizures was 2011, when almost 40 tonnes of smuggled ivory was seized. In the past decade, 11,000 forest elephants have been killed in one park alone—Gabon’s Minkebe National Park—with a total population of forest elephants down 62% in the past 10 years. The kill rate of elephants now exceeds the birth rate—a trend that, if not reversed, could lead to the extinction of the African elephant in some areas in the next few years.

In 2012, a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa—up by almost 50% from 2011 figures. In 2013, the toll continued to rise, with 201 rhinos killed in Kruger National Park alone. A subspecies of the black rhino was declared extinct in the wild in west Africa in 2011.

According to Interpol, the US Department of State, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and others, the same routes used to smuggle wildlife across countries and continents are often used to smuggle weapons, drugs and people, with the same culprits frequently involved. Indeed, wildlife crime often occurs hand in hand with other offences such as fraud, corruption, money laundering, theft and murder. At a global level, illegal wildlife trade undermines sustainable development through its effects on security and the rule of law. I could go on. The scale of the problem is difficult to exaggerate.

Who are the killers, and who is paying them? These are questions to which the answer is complex. War lords or militant groups committed to achieving ideological or political goals by armed insurrection are connected to large-scale poaching. Experts believe that ivory, like the blood diamonds of other African conflicts, is funding many rebel groups and militias in Africa. Poachers have direct access to military weapons and arms markets linked to organised criminal and terrorist groups. Elephant poachers in many parts of Africa use weapons that can be acquired only from military sources. These weapons have range, accuracy and fire power which enables poaching gangs to kill not only a large number of animals but also the rangers tasked with protecting them.

The illegal trafficking of wildlife appears to be one of the ways in which a number of al-Qaeda affiliates and other militants have chosen to raise money to fund their operations. Recent escapees from the Lord’s Resistance Army have reported witnessing rebels shoot elephants and remove their tusks at Joseph Kony’s behest. Somalia, controlled for the most part by al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group that pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, is thought to be training fighters to infiltrate neighbouring Kenya and kill elephants for ivory to raise money. Al-Shabaab was, of course, responsible for the shopping centre massacre in Nairobi in September.

As well as the threatened destruction of the elephant and rhino population, there is the human toll. It is thought by the International Fund for Animal Welfare—IFAW—which I gratefully acknowledge as a source for much of the material in my remarks—that the number of rangers killed in 35 different countries during the past decade is probably between 3,000 and 5,000.

Who are the consumers? For the most part, they are in China. I very much hope that at some stage during the current mission to China someone in the Prime Minister’s very large delegation has found time to draw attention to this really important issue. While more than half of the large shipments of illegal ivory are destined for China, the United States is also a prime market for ivory and ivory carvings. The European Union is widely considered to be the third largest destination for illegal wildlife. It accounts for a third of all ivory seizures worldwide.

What are the solutions? A widespread and many-faceted response is required. This includes tackling terrorists; training and supporting rangers; and providing quasi- military support for the rangers in particularly hard-hit areas. From this year, DNA testing is mandatory for large-scale ivory seizures. Other new technologies are being developed, including alarm systems, as well as an intelligence-led approach. This all requires an integrated enforcement strategy involving all relevant agencies and the sharing of information across boundaries.

More important than any efforts to combat poaching on the ground is probably the reduction in consumer demand. IFAW has utilised mass-media channels to educate the general public in consumer nations about the effect of the wildlife trade on the welfare of animals, including advertising campaigns used in China which specifically target sectors of the community most likely to buy products. The American organisation WildAid is already campaigning hard in China. It has recruited Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, David Beckham and assorted Chinese stars and business leaders using an advertisement on television, trains, planes, taxis and mobile telephones to drive home the message.

I am delighted that there is to be a government-sponsored summit in London in February next year, at which Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers of 50 countries will be urged to fight back against those destroying Africa’s natural heritage to feed the avarice of Asia. Both Prince William and Prince Charles have been raising awareness worldwide. Recently in the Times, which has consistently given wide exposure to this issue, a report said that China had yet to commit to sending a senior Minister to the conference in Whitehall. I very much hope that proves to be wrong.

WildAid has made a powerful and widely distributed video with Yao Ming and Prince William. It is absolutely right to say that there is a risk that targeting only poachers could simply drive up the price of ivory and rhino horn and escalate the conflict, whereas reducing demand in the Far East is likely to be a far more effective long-term strategy.

I do not doubt the Government's determination to make a real contribution to stamping out this dreadful trade. What else can be done? The National Wildlife Crime Unit is at the moment funded year on year, which inevitably makes long-term planning and staff retention difficult. I suggest that the Government should guarantee the long-term funding of this unit, as recommended by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

The combating of trade in illegal ivory on the internet should be a high priority. The Government should commit to tackling online wildlife crime through improved monitoring of internet forums and platforms by enforcement agencies, by building partnerships and by establishing best-practice models with internet companies.

The penalties for wildlife crime are, even in this country, much too light. The Government should, both domestically and worldwide, help to elevate wildlife crime to a proper level of seriousness. It is a form of international crime that poses threats to global security and development. To do this will involve strengthening policies and legal frameworks at local, national and international levels.

It should be a matter of fundamental education that every piece of ivory represents a dead elephant or rhinoceros—something, it appears, that the consumer can all too often forget. This is not a problem that can be solved at leisure. It is one of increasing urgency. The destruction of the elephant and rhino population to gratify Chinese middle-class aspirations or fanciful notions of medical benefit is an obscenity. If the world does not act effectively, we will soon lose an irreplaceable asset and further degrade the legacy we, as human beings, leave behind.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this timely debate. It is timely because the Independent newspaper group, along with the Evening Standard, have launched a campaign on the subject, and made Space for Giants their Christmas appeal. It is also timely because last week the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, launched its briefing, Criminal Nature, to which my noble friend has already referred. It is timely, too, because this week an international conference has been held in Botswana on the subject.

Ivory—its acquisition, transportation and sale—is a complex, brutal and horrifying process. My noble friend has tried to answer the question of how the world can protect rhinos and elephants from the ivory trade. There are only two ways: stop poaching or eliminate the market. Elephants, rhinos and many other species need protection. Elephants are invariably killed for their ivory, and, as I do not believe any are on licence right now, they are invariably poached. This is a situation of which the locals may or may not approve, but it is hard to show disapproval of a gang of poachers with AK47s at the ready.

So how do you crack down and eliminate the poachers? First, you have to put up a tangible reward for information on poachers and their whereabouts. Incentives need to be scaled and relevant to those on the receiving end. If you seek information on poachers, sooner or later you will get some. Then there has to be an immediate and appropriate reaction, otherwise the information flow will become tainted or tail off due to lack of interest. This means that park rangers, game wardens and other law enforcement agencies need to be trained and equipped for the task. This costs money and a long-term commitment, although the finances are marginal in global terms—you could save all the elephants in Africa for a small portion of the feed-in tariffs generously paid to the renewables industry.

Secondly, penalties for those guilty of poaching must be severe. Some recent small fines are frankly laughable. Two Irish smugglers who were found with eight rhino horns were find €500 each, whereas the street value is €500,000. It is good to see that Zimbabwe has introduced heavy fines for poaching—$120,000 for a rhino, $20,000 for an elephant—and if you do not or cannot pay you go to a Zimbabwean jail.

I am not in favour of the death penalty. However, poachers do not think twice about killing wildlife rangers if they get in the way, so it is likely that you are going to have to kill a few poachers before the message sinks in that poachers are effectively on licence all day, every day, of every year, from now on. This worked for a while in Kenya, but poaching has been overtaken by terrorism on the security agencies' priority list, although—as we have heard—in Kenya, as in Tanzania, the two crimes are probably closely linked.

The Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism in Botswana, the honourable Tshekedi Khama, received flak recently when he said:

“When we meet the poachers, we do not negotiate”.

It follows, therefore, that declaring war on terrorists and terrorism by removing sources of income extends to eliminating the poachers, and this could most usefully be tasked and funded from anti-terrorism budgets. The conference held in Gaborone in Botswana this week has agreed more tough measures to cut wildlife smuggling. It is to be classified as a serious crime, and gangs risk having their assets seized.

In some countries poachers with machine guns use helicopters in their murky exploits. They shoot elephants and rhinos from the air, land, take the ivory or horns and take off again. This is not random poaching: this is organised crime, highly financed. There is now hard evidence that these helicopter missions, in particular, are linked to terrorism, drug money-laundering and arms smuggling. They kill for ivory to fund terrorist activity or gun-running or drug activity elsewhere in the world.

I favour the bazooka option for the helicopter raids. It only needs a few of these aircraft to be blasted out of the sky to ram home the message that the poachers are not going to win. Next year the United Kingdom will withdraw its Armed Forces from Afghanistan. Perhaps we could offer to help train wildlife rangers to combat poaching. I know two members of our Armed Forces who would jump at the chance to help.

Finally, the market needs reform, preferably by elimination. A recent poll showed that seven out of 10 Chinese did not know that ivory comes from dead elephants. They seemed to think that it was some kind of mined mineral. Education is the key, not the elephants-are-lovely “Blue Peter” stuff but more along the lines of, “You are ridiculous idiots who need to get a life”. Now, as a realist, I suspect that the Prime Minister is unlikely to have had that sort of discussion on his visit to China this week, but it is encouraging that, according to this month’s National Geographic magazine, the Philippines has become the first non-African country to destroy its ivory stock. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary, Ramon JP Paje, said:

“The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre, and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing”.

Education is also needed as to the efficacy, or otherwise, of ingesting the powdered teeth or horn of elephants, rhinos and the like. Frankly, those who indulge in this practice need to be told that they would get as much benefit from consuming their own toenails, and they are free of charge. China and its inhabitants are both changing at a rapid pace, arguably for the better. As a state, it is buying up much of Africa and therefore should have a cultural interest in preserving what might, one day, become its playground. Education, in the final analysis, is the only solution to the demands of the market. Remove the market, and you stop poaching.

It is not all bad news; there is hope out there. Elephant and rhino populations have plummeted in recent decades, but they still exist. They have not yet become extinct and gone the way of the dodo and numerous other species. In some countries, populations are growing. A shining example is Botswana, and I draw attention to my declared interest in that country. At the end of 2012, Botswana’s elephant population was 207,545, which is more than one-third of all African elephants. The number has almost quadrupled in 20 years and is currently growing at 5% each year. This time next year, there will be more than 10,000 extra elephants in Botswana. The reason is not hard to find. Botswana’s rulers pay attention to and love their wildlife. The country’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, and successive presidents since, knew and know the value of wildlife, not for its ivory and skins, but to attract visitors from around the world to see these magnificent creatures. Botswana has banned so-called trophy hunting. I recommend that noble Lords visit Botswana to see for themselves the most incredible wildlife on our planet in its natural habitat. If noble Lords wish to have elephants on their estates, I understand that the Government of Botswana will let you have as many as you like free of charge. You just need to arrange the transport.

I shall end with this personal experience. A few years ago I was on a boat on the River Chobe near Kasane in northern Botswana. In the distance I could see a large dark object in the river—it was a very large elephant. As we got closer I asked the guide why the elephant was there. “Oh, she’s dying”, he said. “She’s in the water to keep cool”. He added, “She’s the matriarch”. All around there were hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of elephants of all shapes and sizes. A few weeks later I went back and asked what had happened to the elephant. I was told that she died. The wildlife wardens had dragged her onto the river bank and removed the tusks. That is what they do in Botswana with dead elephants; the Government take control of the ivory. Then, for hour upon hour, elephants had filed past her in an orderly fashion, touching her body with their trunks. They were her family paying their last respects. Elephants are amazingly intelligent creatures with feelings just like humans. In my view they are far more intelligent than poachers, the organisers of poaching, those involved in the ivory trade and the end consumers. Bad humans have caused the current crisis. It is now up to good humans to ensure that the species survive by eradicating once and for all the trade in ivory which has led to the horrible and indefensible crime of poaching.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for introducing this topical and very important short debate. I declare an interest in that for more than 20 years I have been a trustee of Tusk, one of the largest wildlife conservation charities in Africa, which funds not only wildlife conservation but community development and wildlife education, which is very important. I have also worked closely with Space for Giants, to which the noble Lord, Lord Jones, referred, which has done remarkable work in conservation, particularly in Kenya, and is working with the Evening Standard and the Independent on a public awareness campaign.

It is very alarming that, according to reports published recently, particularly in 2011, 12% of Africa’s elephants were illegally killed and as many as 20% of central Africa’s elephant population was poached in just that one year. With South Africa being home to almost 80% of Africa’s rhinos and just over 70% of the global population of rhinos, the poaching of this endangered animal has been rampant. In fact, statistics show that almost two rhinos are being poached every day in South Africa.

As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, mentioned, most of the seizures of illegal ivory and rhino horn have been destined for the Far East, predominantly China and Vietnam, although one should not forget that they have also been going to America and to other parts of the European Union. The illegal cargo, particularly from Africa, has been shipped from ports such as Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Mozambique, hidden in shipping containers full of foodstuffs. There have been recent reports that the ivory and rhino horn have been smuggled out of Africa on planes in suitcases by many Chinese who are working on the continent. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, mentioned, the trade in tusks, horns and other animal parts is one of the world’s biggest criminal enterprises, after arms, drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The trade has helped murderous organisations such as Somalia's al-Shabaab, Darfur's Janjaweed militia and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. As has already been mentioned, the demand for ivory in China has resulted in prices going up by more than 50% in the past year, and one ounce of rhino horn is worth more than an ounce of gold. The Elephant Action League calls ivory,

“the white gold of jihad”.

However, there have been some success stories. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, mentioned the herd populations in Botswana which are growing at a very encouraging rate. There has also been a lot of success in Kenya, particularly in Laikipia, where poaching has fallen by more than 65% in the past year. Unfortunately, in the DRC, where governance is at its weakest, the elephant population has been hit the hardest by continued rampant poaching. Tanzania has also been particularly badly affected by poachers and, sadly, many elephants have been poisoned, shot down by AK47s and even killed with rocket-propelled grenades by renegade soldiers in helicopters. It is just senseless. At the current rate of poaching, many wildlife experts forecast that, in several parts of Africa, the elephant herds will be totally wiped out.

These statistics, both in the supply and demand of ivory and rhino horn, are alarming, but there are a few glimmers of hope. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, referred to the recent summit in Botswana, where Africa’s elephant rangers and conservationists met to participate in a summit to work out and agree emergency measures—and there have been some encouraging measures from that summit, particularly in the protection of elephants. They plan to promote action by range states to enhance security and tackle wildlife crime. It is also encouraging that there will be another summit here in London next year.

Kenya has one of the largest populations of elephants in Africa. In the most encouraging move since 1977, the Kenyan Government have recently introduced the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill, which will become law next year. They are also, at long last, giving a lot more support to front-line anti-poaching teams. In South Africa, conservationists have experimented with poisoning the horns of rhinos, which causes no harm to the rhino, but which would render the rhino horn worthless. Over 1,000 rhinos in South Africa have been treated in this manner. It is hoped that, when consumers of rhino horn realise that they could potentially be poisonous, this will drive down demand for rhino horn. It is well known that almost all poaching, particularly of rhino, takes place with inside knowledge of so-called gamekeepers, as well as security guards.

In conclusion, there are a number of measures that need to be taken to address this major problem. There needs to be greater investment in more rangers and community policing initiatives to counter poachers, as well as improved law enforcement across all range states and consumer nations. It is well known that the crime syndicates have been bribing police and magistrates in several African countries to prevent prosecution, as well as corrupting border guards, customs officers, port officials, shipping companies and, sadly, even government Ministers.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jones, that there ought to be far greater penalties against those found guilty of poaching and dealing illegally in ivory and rhino horn. To date, the penalties have been derisory. Furthermore, cross-border investigations and prosecutions have been virtually non-existent in Africa. I would also like to see more government-backed demand reduction programmes, particularly in China, Vietnam and other consumer countries in the Far East.

What is apparent is that there is huge ignorance among consumers. There have been strong calls for China to shut down official factories and shops dealing in ivory and rhino horn. Unfortunately, the release and sale of the African stockpile of ivory in 2008 gave the impression to many consumers that buying ivory was acceptable, which enabled traders to launder illegal ivory through the very short time when there was a legal market.

In conclusion, I am encouraged that at long last there are the first signs of global awareness of the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade, as well as the lion trade. Up to 30% of all the lions in South Africa are kept in captivity. It is not just about the impact on the trade; it is also about the sustainability of tourism. It is vitally important that this subject is not ignored and is put higher on the international political agenda. It is through debates such as this one, backed by the power of social media, that we will, I hope, substantially reduce this disastrous situation.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for securing this debate and for the way in which he introduced it. Certainly his points about the relationship to other crime, which were reinforced by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord St John, were very well made and I do not need to add to them. As the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, this is a very timely debate, not just because of the work that the Independent has launched this week but also because of the meetings in Botswana and Paris this week—which is perhaps why the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is not with us. I pay tribute to the work that he is doing on this issue. Of course, there is also the relationship with poverty. It is striking that the world’s most magnificent and, tragically, valuable animals are surrounded by the world’s poorest people and by some of the worst conflict in the world. That makes it particularly difficult to tackle this issue.

We have heard about the plight of elephants and rhinos. The Independent report suggests that as many as 52,000 elephants a year might now be lost due to poaching and that the population is 15% of what it was 20 years ago. I see from the National Wildlife Crime Unit that 234 items of ivory were seized in the UK last year alone. I also note from Defra’s strategic assessment of the National Wildlife Crime Unit from February 2011 that 12 rhinos a month were being lost in South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2011 due to this trade.

I was fortunate enough to see forest elephants in their natural environment in 2005 in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I met with the rangers there. I was the first western visitor to the park for 10 years. I believe that every one of the rangers I met has subsequently died as a result of the activity of the Lord’s Resistance Army and from other conflict in that area. I went on from Virunga to Bukavu, principally to see how Darwin money from the UK Government was being spent to protect gorillas in the forests of the DRC. The rangers there made it clear to me that the forest elephants in that part of the world are hugely important to the eco-system because they effectively create the pathways through which the rest of the wildlife is able to move. The tragic fate of the forest elephants, which was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord St John, is having a serious impact on the rest of the eco-system. This is something that we should value beyond just the charismatic value of these extraordinary animals.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, explained the choices well. Do you stop the poaching and/or can you stop the market? Both clearly are really hard. We have seen from Tanzania the efforts being made by the president there in launching Operation Tokomeza, with its orders to shoot to kill elephant poachers. Clearly he is doing what he can and that reflects the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about being able to stop poaching. However, when this activity is sitting alongside such intense and difficult conflict and such intense poverty, stopping poaching is extremely difficult, certainly in those countries with porous borders. It is difficult to be optimistic.

In terms of stopping demand, I would be interested to know whether the Prime Minister in his visit to China was able, in among all the many important discussions he would have had there, to raise this issue with the Chinese. Clearly, that is a critical part of the market. Indeed, the irony when I was in the DRC all those years ago was that the Chinese were the people building the roads through the forest for the people and the elephants were making the roads for the animals. The demand from the Chinese appears to be removing that capacity.

I certainly congratulate the Government on the London conference, and Prince William and the Prince of Wales on their leadership on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned the decision made in 2008 by the previous Government, of whom I was a member. That decision was debatable at best. It was made with good intentions in wanting to depress the price to reduce incentives to poachers and create revenue with the one-off sale for monitoring and enforcement against poachers. But I wonder whether the Government have learnt any lessons from that decision to allow one-off trade. Personally I regret the decision and it would be good now to see an unequivocal international ban on all forms of ivory trade, although I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

Beyond the work that is being done internationally, where the Government have a pretty good record in terms of international wildlife conservation, there are also measures that need to be taken internally to make sure that we have our own house in order as we try to assert our authority internationally. I remember seeing the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit’s efforts at Heathrow and seeing the extraordinary range of different things from the wildlife trade that are seized there on a daily basis. I have already said how much ivory is seized by that unit.

What progress is being made in terms of updating COTES, which implements CITES in this country? I pay tribute to the World Society for the Protection of Animals for its contribution of £100,000 per year to the work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. I understand that the Government contributed £136,000 for 2013-14, but there is no commitment to fund the unit beyond that. Can the Minister update us on whether the Government will commit funds beyond that, at least at the current level, particularly now that we have the Autumn Statement? Perhaps there is some news buried away in the lengthy documentation that not all of us have had a chance to absorb from today's announcement. Many of us in this debate would like to see funding extended beyond the current level, because there is some evidence that London is the centre for some of this trade. We need to ensure that we play our part in forcing through Home Office funding for that unit as well as the one in the Met.

I pay tribute to all those who have spoken in this brief but high-quality debate. I reinforce my congratulations to the Minister on the work that he is doing on the cause this week and my appreciation of the leadership particularly of Prince William in asserting the UK's role through the conference that we will have shortly. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s answers on funding for the units and what we are doing to make sure that we have as good a record as possible here in the UK to reinforce those international efforts.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for raising this important issue and all those who have taken part in this debate with such passion and knowledge. My noble friend is quite right: this is not a marginal issue, it is extremely important. It is a challenge that has increased with great severity and rapidity, as noble Lords have indicated. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for his long-standing work with Tusk.

There can be no doubt that elephant and rhinoceros populations are facing a considerable threat from poaching, which has been sweeping much of the African continent. Elephants are being lost at the rate of tens of thousands a year, and at the current rate of increase in poaching, rhino numbers could fall into decline as early as 2015. If left unchecked, as noble Lords have said, some country populations will undoubtedly disappear and the very existence of these species could be threatened. That cannot be allowed to happen. I want to make it clear that the Government take the issue of the illegal trade in wildlife very seriously. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I confirm our commitment to the ban on the trade of ivory. As I heard the winds threaten to blow the roof off this Room, it sounded as if the gods agree with us.

Traditionally wildlife poaching has been considered an environmental problem—a threat to the conservation of the species but no more. It is increasingly recognised as a problem affecting other sectors as well. Noble Lords made that case strongly. The illegal trade in wildlife is a multibillion pound industry, and as my noble friend Lord Faulks made clear, there is evidence of involvement by organised criminality and, in some cases, heavily armed militias and those linked to extremist activity. As my noble friend Lord Faulks and others have said, this illegal activity undermines the rule of law, can destabilise fragile Governments and impede development goals. My noble friend Lord Faulks made very clear the interlinking between this trade and crime, and the impact on the most fragile of states. The noble Lord, Lord St John, reinforced this very cogent case. To describe ivory as he did, as the “white gold of jihad” aptly recognises its significance.

The UK has for many years taken an active role in the conservation of species internationally, most usually through our engagement with multilateral environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. We have supplemented this work with specific engagement on projects involving many of the iconic species that have been mentioned here—tigers, elephants and rhino—and one species that is very popular among the British public but that has not been mentioned here—apes. Support is not always financial; it is also practical. My noble friend Lord Faulks will be pleased to hear that last month, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra announced that British paratroopers in Kenya would provide patrol and field training for Kenyan conservation rangers to help in their fight against poaching. My noble friend Lord Faulks pointed out not only the risk to the animals, but also to the rangers themselves. This was again echoed by other noble Lords.

In March, UK officials played a major role in achieving strong outcomes to provide greater protection for elephants and rhinos at the CITES conference of parties in Bangkok. This included a requirement for the eight states most implicated in the illegal ivory trade to produce and implement time-limited action plans. Implementation will be assessed next July and we will not hesitate to call for punitive measures where necessary.

Clearly, however, much more needs to be done. As my noble friend Lord Jones and others have mentioned, a summit on the plight of the African elephants, hosted by the Government of Botswana, has just finished. We helped fund this meeting and it was attended by my noble friend Lord De Mauley, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defra. He would otherwise have been at this debate. I will pass back to him the very generous tribute paid to him on his work by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. We welcome the outcome of that meeting with its 14 emergency measures.

However, clearly no country can solve this problem alone. That is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced at the UN General Assembly that the UK will host an international conference in London on 13 February 2014 to galvanise international action. That is a meeting to which a number of noble Lords have referred. We are working very closely across government with a wide range of foreign Governments, multilateral organisations, the Royal Household and NGOs to prepare for this conference. It will seek to address three key areas which must all be addressed if we are to be successful. They are the areas that noble Lords referred to in their speeches.

The first area is improving law enforcement and the role of the criminal justice system throughout the chain of illegal trafficking. This includes the countries in which the animals are poached, the countries through which they transit and the countries in which they end up. The second is reducing demand for the wildlife products that drive this trafficking through public awareness and behaviour-change campaigns. This area was strongly highlighted by noble Lords. The third is supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by the illegal wildlife trade in order to reduce the incentive to become involved in poaching, as well as working actively within the community against poachers.

The highest levels of government, up to and including heads of state, have been invited to the conference, and key source, transit and destination countries will be present. The conference will focus on elephant, rhino and tiger but the outputs will benefit a much wider spectrum of species. The noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned lions and the sustainability of tourism. The longer-term economic, as well as environmental, effect of this trade is clearly key. The conference will build on the valuable work already undertaken at international, regional and national levels, giving renewed impetus to existing initiatives and identifying new opportunities for action.

We recognise, as emphasised by noble Lords, that China is the biggest consumer of ivory. As noble Lords mentioned, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been in China—in fact, he has been there twice in recent weeks. I assure my noble friend Lord Faulks and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that he was indeed planning to raise this issue during his latest visit, and I look forward, as no doubt they do, to hearing what progress has been made. The Prime Minister has invited China to the London conference and there are good indications that delegates from that country will attend.

My noble friends Lord Faulks and Lord Jones expressed concern about the level of penalties for those involved in this crime. I point out that those convicted of such crimes can be sentenced for up to seven years. I heard what my noble friend Lord Jones said about the “bazooka” option, and perhaps I should use the phrase of my noble friend Lord Dobbs—“I couldn’t possibly comment”. Clearly, the United Kingdom takes this issue very seriously. We follow an intelligence-led approach, escalating it as appropriate, and a number of agencies, including the Home Office and the Border Force, all work together in this area. I think that noble Lords will also be aware of the greater involvement of DfID in the strengthening of policing in relevant areas, including trying to tackle corruption, which undermines fragile states.

I was asked specifically about the ongoing funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. I thank the unit on behalf of those behind me and others behind them, and I join in the tributes that noble Lords have paid to it. I remind noble Lords that our commitment to this area is borne out by the commitment made on 23 January, when Defra and the Home Office confirmed that each would provide funding of £136,000 for 2013-14. We are currently discussing future funding across government because we recognise the importance of what noble Lords have been saying. Of course, the National Wildlife Crime Unit is involved in looking at illegal trade taking place on the internet, and this is a new challenge. There is legal trade and less legal trade, and there is totally illegal trade. This is an area that is likely to develop very rapidly and prove very challenging in the future, but we are well aware of that.

We are working internationally with many different organisations. The noble Lord, Lord St John, mentioned the EU. It, too, is taking the threat to this trade very seriously. The EU has put in place wildlife trade regulations, which implement the provisions of CITES and the majority of the CITES resolutions, but they go beyond the convention in many areas. For example, the EU and China signed a landmark agreement to join forces to try to combat the illegal trade in wildlife products. Given China’s interest in relations with the EU, that is a very encouraging development.

We treat the issue of illegal wildlife trade very seriously. We are working together with many countries and organisations to tackle it, which is why we have called the London summit. The Committee is right to emphasise this issue. It has far-reaching consequences in terms of the social, environmental and economic instability that the trade promotes. We recognise that and I can assure the Committee of our determination in this area. I am sure that noble Lords will continue to hold our feet to the fire on this issue.

Sitting suspended.