Remarks by John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES made during the Illegal Tiger Trade session of the International Tiger Forum

St Petersburg, Russian Federation, 22 November 2010

Secretary-General John Scanlon with Suwit Khunkitti, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Thailand, at the International Tiger Forum, Saint Petersburg

Almost every part of a tiger has a value in the ‘black markets’ of illegal trade in wildlife. Its skin, bones, whiskers, collar bones, feet, claws, teeth, penis and tail have all been used for a variety of purposes. Illegal trade in tiger meat for human consumption appears to have increased in recent years. There is almost no end to the variety of ways in which those who trade in this animal can profit. Trade in live tigers, although very limited, also occasionally occurs, primarily for private collections of exotic species or as a status symbol.

Despite the best efforts of tiger range States, including the establishment of more and more protected areas, where one would have hoped tigers would be safe, the decline of this species in the wild seems almost unstoppable.

In 1999, a CITES technical mission team visited 14 tiger range States, and what we refer to as consumer States. It found that the law enforcement officers tasked with protecting tigers in the wild and combating illegal trade in these magnificent creatures were often under-resourced, poorly paid, and inadequately trained. Many of the Team’s conclusions and recommendations remain valid and relevant today, despite a decade having passed.

However, good enforcement work is being conducted but obviously not often enough. This is particularly frustrating if one acknowledges that illegal trade in tigers is not especially widespread. Much of it appears to be conducted by a relatively limited number of individuals or groups and is destined for specialized markets or consumers. Although some of these markets and consumers are clandestine in nature, they are nonetheless open to infiltration and targeting. The CITES Secretariat believes that much of today’s illegal trade in tigers could be markedly reduced, if concerted, collective efforts were made by the law enforcement community against those involved in these destructive crimes.

The CITES community has also long recognized that combating illegal trade in wildlife is a multi-agency task. Our capacity-building workshops have regularly brought together Customs and Police officers, fishery protection inspectors, forest guards, game scouts, wildlife wardens and rangers and other officials of specialized enforcement agencies.

At the international level, the CITES Secretariat has enjoyed a very close working relationship, over many years, with INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization. In recent years, we have increasingly collaborated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and most recently with the World Bank. The Conference of the Parties to CITES has formally called for such relationships to be strengthened.

However, the CITES Secretariat's work with these partners had often tended to be on a bilateral or trilateral basis and not all-inclusive. We realized that it was time to call for “all hands on deck” and truly combine our complementary efforts. Thus was born a new initiative that has come to be known as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime or ICCWC - pronounced 'eye-quick'.

ICCWC is a partnership of five international agencies:

  • The CITES Secretariat brings over three decades of experience in supporting our Parties in regulating legal trade in wildlife and combating illegal trade. Our knowledge and understanding of what drives trade in animals and plants and how such trade is conducted is, understandably, considerable. We also have an excellent global overview of wildlife crime. The CITES Convention itself, of course, establishes the legal framework within which illegal trade in wildlife can be responded to.
  • INTERPOL, the world's premier criminal police organization, brings to the table almost 80 years of work in aiding communication between the police forces of the world. Its officers have a wealth of knowledge in coordinating international operations and investigations, tracing fugitives and bringing them to justice, maintaining databases containing names, fingerprints and photographs of all manner of criminals, and responding rapidly to major scenes of crime and terrorism around the world. The unanimous adoption by INTERPOL’s General Assembly, when it met two weeks ago, of a Resolution on environmental crime clearly illustrates that the Commissioners and other senior police officers of the world recognize the serious levels of organized crime that are associated with illegal trade in natural resources.
  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime supports the nations of the world in fighting, for example, trafficking in narcotics, humans and firearms. Strategically, operationally and through detailed research and data-gathering, it helps the judicial systems of the world respond to the tentacles of organized crime that increasingly reach into every corner of society. Its country and regional offices are working every day to build capacity and strengthen the professionalism of national law enforcement agencies. Indeed, as recently as early October this year, CITES and UNODC staff engaged in a training event for the Customs and police officers who monitor sea-going cargo as it passes through the Panama Canal.
  • The World Bank is working, nationally, regionally and internationally, to aid developing nations and countries with economies in transition. It is increasingly promoting governance and sustainability in the lawful exploitation of natural resources and has considerable experience in this field with regard to forestry and the logging industries. It has specialized staff who are working around the world in the fields of anti-money laundering and asset recovery. We are delighted that the Bank’s expertise should allow us to introduce to the field of wildlife law enforcement the principle of ‘follow-the-money’, so that we can hit organized crime groups where it hurts them most – in their pockets.
  • The World Customs Organization represents the Customs authorities of the world and has established tariff systems that are used daily to track, trace, and determine duties, in relation to every aspect of trade. It has designed and delivered trade facilitation and regulation systems that help speed cargo from one side of the globe to the other, whilst targeting and intercepting contraband shipments. Once seen as simply revenue-collecting officials, Customs officers are now the frontline agents in maintaining the border integrity and national security of our countries. When, last year, the Secretary General of the WCO called for a global day of action against illegal trade in wildlife, 90 Customs authorities responded and over 4,500 items of 80 different species were seized.

These five entities, CITES, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the WCO make up ICCWC.

The goal of ICCWC is to introduce a new era to wildlife law enforcement by drawing upon the complementary skills of the Consortium. An era where criminals who prey upon endangered animal and plant species will face a formidable opposition, one that is determined to ensure that engaging in illegal trade in wildlife is no longer low-risk and that those people who are arrested and brought before the courts will receive penalties that fit their crimes.

On behalf of the CITES community, indeed the whole conservation community, I thank our partner agencies for so readily embracing the concept of ICCWC. I also take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the efforts of the small team of specialists from the five agencies for their initiative in promoting this concept and helping drive it to fruition. 

Up until now ICCWC has been a concept. However, tomorrow, in St Petersburg, we have a Letter of Understanding that will change ICCWC from a concept into reality.

The Letter was signed earlier this month by Ronald Noble, Secretary General of INTERPOL and by me, when I visited INTERPOL headquarters in Lyon. Several days later, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, Kunio Mikuriya, signed it in his office in Brussels.

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, and Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, will add their signatures to the Letter in the margins of tomorrow’s High-Level segment and thus bring the Consortium formally into being.

Finally the International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg should send a loud and clear message to criminals who prey upon tigers – you will be hunted down and brought to justice – and the Consortium, launched at this Forum, will do its utmost to assist national enforcement authorities in their work.