The conference is a follow-up to the historic London and Kasane international conferences on illicit trade in wildlife— addressing its negative social, environmental and economic impacts.
Over the next three days, an estimated 100 conservationists and top government officials from 54 countries are due to thrash out international trade regulations aimed at protecting various species and review the status of implementing actions agreed as part of the prior London and Kasane conferences.
Most notably, the plight of Africa’s rhino and elephants, targeted by poachers for their valuable horns and tusks in illegal black markets is expected to garner much of the discussion.
The thriving illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), said Vice President Thinh.
Ms Thinh said it was therefore critically important that nations work collectively to save species and bring them back from the brink of extinction.
Britain Prince William in turn spoke about the plight of elephants in Africa saying that one of our planet’s most treasured species is on course for extinction at the hands of poachers and traffickers.
In an earlier speech, he had noted that when he was born there were one million elephants roaming Africa, but they could be extinct in the wild by the time his one-year-old daughter Charlotte turns 25.
Illegal trade in wildlife is valued at around US$20 billion annually, according to CITES.
It is ranked among the world’s largest illegal businesses alongside arms, counterfeit goods, drugs and human trafficking.
CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals.
On rhino horn trafficking, CITES banned that trade four decades ago, however the prohibition has not been effective in reducing poaching, which has in recent years been on the upswing in countries like South Africa.
It is estimated that around 5,000 white rhino – a quarter of the population – have been slaughtered over just the past eight years alone, with the majority killed in South Africa, home to 80% of the world’s rhino.
UN Vice Secretary General Yury Fedotov said Vietnam is home to many rare and precious wild animals such as tigers and pangolins but noted it is also a hotspot for illegal wildlife trade
Rhino poaching is driven by an insatiable demand in Vietnam and China for the horn, which, he said, is mistakenly believed to have powerful medicinal powers curing diseases such as cancer.
Other species high on the CITES radar are devils ray, rock geckos, tomato frogs and the African grey parrot.
The conference is expected to adopt a Hanoi Declaration, decrying the illegal trade of endangered species is a most serious crime and outlining measures and actions to strengthen law enforcement and international cooperation to combat illegal wildlife trade.