"It is heart-breaking to think that by the time my children George, Charlotte and Louis are in their twenties, elephants, rhinos and tigers might well be extinct in the wild."
So uttered Prince William, the United Kingdom's Duke of Cambridge, at the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) conference, convened in London last week and hosted by the UK's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
At the gathering, representatives of some 80 nations assembled to, as the Guardian reported, tackle "the tension between fast-growing human populations and wildlife, the need to raise and enforce the penalties for wildlife crime, and the danger to the stability of nations where international criminal gangs operate."
Ali Bongo Ondimba, the President of Gabon -- home to the world's largest population of forest elephants -- warned that "elephants and other endangered species could be driven to extinction unless Western governments begin to take the illegal wildlife trade as seriously as terrorism or drug running."
But the combination of easy money and lax law enforcement have made the appeal of this illegal activity nearly irresistible to poachers -- both poverty-stricken subsistence poachers and high-octane organized-crime outfits.
The Guardian noted that "The trafficking of wildlife, including for ivory, rhino horns, pangolins and turtles, is estimated to be worth $23bn a year, making it the fourth most profitable criminal enterprise after the trafficking of drugs, guns and people." It further noted that "Weak penalties and poor legal enforcement have made it a lucrative and low-risk activity for criminal syndicates."
In the IWT's concluding 20-point declaration, the 50 signing governments agreed to, among other things, "Welcome action taken, in accordance with domestic law, as appropriate, to treat wildlife offences as predicate offences, including for money laundering crimes, as defined in the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime." Which is an excellent first step.