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The Hidden Cost Of Wildlife Crime: 4 Out Of 5 Animals Die In Transit

<p>(Photo: Nicky Loh/Getty Images for World Animal Protection)</p>

With an estimated worth of between $10 and 20 billion each year, the "zero tolerance approach to wildlife trafficking" announced by HRH Prince William in Washington, DC today, December 8, is so very welcome.

Many view wildlife crime as solely a conservation issue, but it is clearly a welfare issue, too. Our wildlife is in crisis, with the trade of live wildlife causing some of the worst suffering imaginable. Imagine a three month-old tiger cub drugged in a suitcase, 1,700 live animals in the boot of a hatchback car, or 18 endangered Titi monkeys placed inside socks and strapped to a male passenger underneath his jumper as he passed through customs. These cases are real. Wild animals will experience shock at being removed from their habitat, drugging, and manhandling, as well as unfathomably cramped conditions without food and water, sometimes for days. This is the life of many millions of animals caught up in illegal wildlife trade. As many as four out of five of them will die in transit, or within a year.

All of this is fueled by money and consumerism - the status of owning an exotic pet, or a trinket or animal part for a cure or ointment. The reality is, we can no longer ignore the huge cruelty behind the fourth most lucrative crime (after drugs, arms and human trafficking).

The announcement of a taskforce to combat the role of transport in facilitating wildlife crime worldwide, is desperately needed. Keeping this urgent issue firmly on the global stage is Prince William who will spearhead the taskforce, alongside the UK First Secretary of State, William Hague MP who will chair. It will bring together airlines, shipping companies and couriers, alongside animal welfare and conservation organizations to combat the hijacking of their travel services for wildlife crime. Our hope it that it will be a powerful new front in the battle against wildlife crime; disrupting trade routes and criminals who are killing and harming the world's wildlife.

And while previous efforts have focused on poachers at one end of the chain and traders or consumers at the other, there has not been enough focus on the routes and mechanisms that connect the two to facilitate this dreadful trade. Until now. I am proud that World Animal Protection has a well-established history of working closely with enforcement officials dealing with wildlife crime. Earlier this year we successfully campaigned to safeguard the future of the Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit, which is leading the fight against wildlife crime in London. With our network of 1.7 million supporters worldwide, the organisation is extending this approach to campaign against the wildlife trade globally.

Wildlife trade facts: