Dear Excellences, Dear Ambassadors, Dear Representatives, Dear Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,
Last night, as some parts of the world were darkened by once-in-33 years lunar eclipse, Collet, 30 and Felicia, 27, who had never set foot outside of their native South Africa, were shining under the spotlights of New York as they accepted the top UN environmental accolade, The Champions of the Earth.
The two young women who were representing the Black Mambas, South Africa's first all-women anti-poaching unit, were honored along with the PM of Bangladesh and the CEOs of Uniliver, National Geographic Society and Natura.
Like many representatives of communities, Collet and Felicia, only armed with their courage and their determination to protect their livelihoods, said that they were committed to reduce, if not stop the illegal killing of rhinos, elephants and other species found in their ecosystems.
Wildlife crime has escalated rapidly and globally. Whilst we hear most about the 30,000 or more African elephants that have been killed each year for their ivory, sadly, that's the tip of the iceberg.
Wildlife and forest crime affects a wide range of less high profile animals, trees and other plants in all regions of the world, and is worth tens of billion US dollars each year globally.
It is increasingly complex, with organized criminal groups, and some militant and terrorist groups profiting from extraction, extortion and illegal taxation.
In Eastern Africa, Al Shaabab makes an estimated $50 million per year from illicit charcoal taxation.
In Latin America, cartels have hacked government websites to facilitate illegal logging. In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an estimated $ 1.3 billion are made yearly from illegal exploitation of natural resources. A tiny proportion of that money is 're-invested' back to DRC, only to sustain dozens of armed groups as peace and security is of no interest to criminals.
On this scale, the loss of biodiversity is tragic, but the loss for local communities is criminal. Wildlife and forest crime robs poor and vulnerable countries of revenues that could have been used to build schools, roads, health care and create jobs.
Increasing awareness and growing commitment to tackle this problem is vital, but not enough. Its sheer scale is beyond the capacity of many individual countries and organizations. That's why the collective response made possible by organizations like ICCF and the Conservation Council of Nations is so important to consolidating the national frameworks and judicial systems for wildlife conservation.
With Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding, UNEP and the Conservation Council of Nations joined forces in strengthening political will through a recent initiative called: 'Engaging policy makers and the judiciary to address poaching and illegal wildlife trade in Africa.' This project was one of the first to be funded under the GEF focusing on addressing the illegal trade in wildlife.
I would like to thank ICCF for organzing this event and applaud leaders present today for their commitment.