Prince William will on Wednesday call for the world to address with renewed urgency the illegal wildlife trade when he speaks at a virtual meeting of leading conservation organisations.
The second in line to the UK throne will say there has never been such a strong “global incentive” to tackle the problem, although he will stop short of blaming the coronavirus pandemic on the trade.
“Right now, there is a real chance to ensure that the urgent steps that the world must take to prevent future zoonotic disease pandemics are designed in a way that also helps to eradicate the illegal wildlife trade,” the Duke of Cambridge will say, referring to illnesses that can pass from animals to humans.
The meeting is being co-ordinated by United for Wildlife, an organisation the Duke set up in 2014 to bring together groups working to prevent species extinction.
Backed by The Royal Foundation, his main philanthropic vehicle, it seeks to unite wildlife charities with law enforcement agencies, governments and corporations.
The event on Wednesday, chaired by former UK foreign secretary William Hague, is expected to attract about 700 attendees. It will discuss not only how to end the illegal wildlife trade but also the impact of Covid-19 on conservation, as well as the links between zoonotic diseases and the wildlife trade.
Video: Coronavirus: New wildlife trade regime needed to avoid next pandemic | FT Interview
The coronavirus crisis has had negative consequences for wildlife charities as revenue has been hit hard.
Yet at the same time the pandemic has prompted fresh scrutiny of whether coronavirus originated in one of China’s notorious “wet markets” in Wuhan province, where wild animals are sold as delicacies.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, said in February that the Beijing government would crack down on the illegal wild animal trade. “The bad habit of eating wildlife without limits must be abandoned,” he said.
The Duke is expected to say that the current crisis provides a “notable opportunity” for those committed to ending the illegal wildlife trade.
“Never before have the public health risks of the wildlife trade come into such sharp focus,” he will say. “Never before has there been greater public awareness about the dangers of zoonotic diseases like Ebola, Sars, Mers and Covid.”
That effort will take a concerted effort and teamwork from across international governments, the private sector and charities, he will say.
United For Wildlife has set up two task forces — for transport and finance — to develop specific solutions to ending wildlife trafficking.
Some 170 private sector companies are members of the groups, which have supported more than 100 legal investigations around the world.
International funding for tackling the illegal wildlife trade in Africa and Asia has averaged only about $260m a year.
At an October 2018 conference in London, 65 countries declared that the illegal wildlife trade was a “sophisticated criminal activity” that represented a “great threat to national and regional security”, because it often used the same networks that supported money-laundering, weapons and drugs.
The World Bank has called the problem a “governance issue” where the solutions are known but global attention and resources “appear insufficient”.