When the UK is hosting a two day international summit on the illegal wildlife trade, involving two future kings of our country and world leaders from fifty nations, all invited by the prime minister, why does the Met police have a team of only five people to fight an illegal trade estimated to be worth $19billion a year? Isn't it time we got serious about this crime?
Wildlife crime is not some fluffy issue. It is a global industry that deals in blood and death with links to serious organised crime, the trafficking of drugs, of people and even to terrorism. It is the fourth biggest illegal trade after drugs, counterfeiting and people in terms of profits. In fact the price of rhino horn per kilogram is now more expensive than gold and cocaine.
London is a major international hub for wildlife crime and people trafficking endangered animals or parts of animals, which is why the Government, the Mayor of London and the Met police should take this issue seriously.
The tiny but incredibly effective Wildlife Crime Unit at the Met has found itself on the endangered list before because some senior police have failed to grasp how important it is. Just this year its future was under threat when the funding that had been provided by the World Society for the Protection of Animals came to an end. Thankfully, and after lots of behind the scenes lobbying, the Met and the Mayor saw sense and have kept the unit and secured its funding until 2015.
This team costs about £205,000 a year, has five staff and is going up against a global illegal trade worth billions. This is a David and Goliath struggle and unfortunately at the moment the criminals making billions by killing and trafficking animals are winning.
The Met has a budget of over £3billion, is currently planning to spend up to £200,000 on three second-hand water cannon from Germany that will allegedly be rarely seen or used but when it comes to tackling a crime with links to terrorism relies on a tiny team of five. I think that illustrates that wildlife crime just isn't seen as a priority.
Coming out of this international summit I should like to see policy makers and the Mayor of London taking this issue seriously and providing the necessary funding to put a stop to this trade. If we don't act soon then we will see some of the planet's most iconic animals wiped out during our lifetime. If we do not act then we will have to account to future generations why we allowed whole species to go extinct because we could spare the necessary money to protect them from criminals.