United for Wildlife launches Latin America Chapter in Santa Marta

Ambassador George Hodgson and United for Wildlife's Rob Campbell in Santa Marta. Photo: The Royal Foundation

In a display of collective action, prominent financial institutions, transport companies, law enforcement agencies, and conservation groups operating in Latin America came together this week in the Colombian coastal city of Santa Marta to confront the threat of the illegal wildlife trade.

The wild cat conservation NGO Panthera was among the new signatories who joined United for Wildlife’s global network, pledging to take leadership roles within their sectors to help end wildlife crimes.

The event was hosted by United for Wildlife, British Embassy in Colombia, and supported by the Government of Colombia’s Ministry of Environment. The conference marked the launch of the United for Wildlife Latin America and Caribbean Chapter, which will foster collaboration across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in the region to identify, report and prevent wildlife trafficking. The new Chapter aims to facilitate a more unified strategy to tackle the illegal wildlife trade in Latin America and the Caribbean, by strengthening existing partnerships.

The launch of the Latin America and Caribbean Chapter marks the seventh regional chapter to be established, following successful implementations in East Africa, Southern Africa, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, Australasia, Middle East and North Africa, and North America.

“Given the extraordinarily rich biodiversity of Latin America and the Caribbean, it is unsurprising that the region is a highly desirable target for those involved in wildlife crime” stated Lord Hague of Richmond, Chair of The Royal Foundation. “Despite the challenges faced in the region, Latin America is leading the way, both in awareness of the illegal wildlife trade and the strength of its law enforcement response in combatting it,” he added.

As the world’s most biodiverse region, Latin America and the Caribbean is a significant target for wildlife trafficking, a crime that impacts communities, economies and a shared biodiversity, as well as the planet’s resilience to climate change.

The Santa Marta event highlighted the regional illegal wildlife trade threats and movement corridors in Latin America, including marine trafficking and ocean protection. The delegates – including UK Ambassador to Colombia George Hodgson and Rob Campbell of The Royal Foundation – marked the chapter launch with the release of marine species confiscated from traffickers, including nursing sharks, green turtles and a loggerhead turtle, back into their ocean habitat. “What happens to nature here has an impact on people everywhere. That is why the UK is so invested in protecting the region’s threatened flora and fauna,” remarked Ambassador Hodgson.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth up to US$20 billion annually and is run by highly organized criminal networks associated with violent crime, corruption and other forms of trafficking. Defeating it requires a global, organized response, with root and branch intelligence sharing between front-line conservationists all the way up to national government and international organizations.

Founded by HRH Prince William and The Royal Foundation in 2014, and in partnership with the UNODC, United for Wildlife aims to make it impossible for traffickers to transport, finance or profit from wildlife trafficking. Its unique approach has united nearly 400 international financial institutions, transport companies, law enforcement agencies, and non-governmental organizations to date.

In the six years since creating its international transport and financial taskforces, the United for Wildlife network has contributed to nearly 500 law enforcement cases, over 300 arrests, over 200 seizures of wildlife products and has trained over 100,000 professionals. The global network focuses on dismantling supply and demand chains for exotic and endangered species.

“Existing regional expertise, combined with the collective innovation of some of the world’s largest financial institutions and transport companies that form United for Wildlife’s global network, is vital if we are to bring down the intricate networks behind this heinous crime,” highlighted Lord Hague of Richmond.