08/12/2014 09:11 GMT | Updated 07/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Why We Need a Truly International Approach to Tackling Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Today I will address delegates at the World Bank on the illegal wildlife trade, which is a subject extremely close to my heart. I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak at such an influential forum, given the World Bank's prominence and rich history in global development and in addressing some of the world's most pressing problems.

I will be highlighting the link between corruption, wild and natural resource crime and illicit trade. Corruption remains one of the most persistent and damaging impediments to the alleviation of poverty and, I believe, one of the most insidious forms of corruption in the world today is the illegal wildlife trade.

Many people might wonder why conserving wildlife should be considered so important when there are wider issues of global and national interest, such as conflict and poverty to worry about. The answer is because these issues are interlinked.

Wildlife crime goes well beyond just a threat to endangered species but also has impacts on our society, economy and security. It undermines efforts to uphold the rule of law, acts as an agent for corruption, creates a barrier to development and fuels global instability.

The illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth most lucrative transnational crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking. Such has become the wealth associated with some animal parts like elephant tusk and rhino horn, that the trade is now estimated to be worth between $10 and $20 billion. Poachers are equipped with ever more sophisticated weaponry, as they become part of criminal organisations that make vast profits from the practice. There is also increasing evidence that terrorist groups use the illegal wildlife trade to fund their activities.

Around the world, wildlife crime is responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals a year. It is plainly wrong that the greed of those who fuel demand and facilitate the illegal wildlife trade stands to push some of the world's most iconic species to the brink of extinction - animals that have come to represent the whole idea of wildlife to young and old alike.

The statistics speak for themselves. In three years, 100,000 African elephants have been poached. The illegal killing of rhinos has increased 7,700% in five years. 97% of the world's wild tigers have been lost over the past century.

It is scarcely believable to imagine a world without elephants, rhinos, lions or tigers. Yet time is running out to save these creatures from being consigned to the history books and to stories of days gone by.

Furthermore, poaching is often perceived to be a crime without human victim, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Over 1,200 Park Rangers have been killed in the past 12 years on the frontline of wildlife protection. These men and women signed up and trained to care for their wildlife. Instead, they find themselves fighting for their lives against armed criminal networks.

Many of the poorest build their livelihoods on the availability and use of natural resources. In Africa, animals and the natural landscape allow local communities to support themselves, as there is a constant source of money from tourism. The plunder and destruction of this natural heritage - to satisfy the greed of a few - traps people in poverty and conflict. The illegal wildlife trade has an unacceptable human cost for those who have lived for centuries in harmony with wildlife.

With the illegal wildlife trade on the rise, our response to the problem must evolve, and do so rapidly. In recent years, I have been heartened to see a real commitment to addressing wildlife crime as many committed organizations around the world work hard to tackle this complex and multifaceted problem.

Over the last two years, through The Royal Foundation which I share with my wife Catherine and brother Harry, we have brought together a powerful global alliance of seven of the world's most influential conservation organisations to form United for Wildlife. In February this year, we set out our commitments at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade to combat the trade on a number of fronts, including; improving protection and enforcement on the ground, reducing demand for wildlife products, supporting local communities and helping the business community and legal systems tackle international trafficking.

But this is just the beginning. This is a complex issue which requires a concerted global response to eradicate wildlife crime - as vigorous and as forceful as the trade itself. Cooperation is our greatest weapon and we must be brave and ambitious in taking a truly international approach to get one step ahead of the criminals and hold to account those who look the other way.

This morning, I will call upon experts, policy makers, anti-corruption agents, prosecutors and private companies to help in this task. Together, we have the means to stop this corrosive trade.

But we are already past the eleventh hour and now, more than ever before, is the time to act.