HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Britain's Prince William praised Vietnam, China and other Asian countries for taking unprecedented steps to battle wildlife trafficking but said Thursday the truth is that rhinos, elephants, pangolins and lions are still being killed in horrifying numbers.
William, who is president of United for Wildlife , lauded progress in stemming trade in endangered wildlife since the London conference two years ago, particularly partnership between African governments to fight poaching. China has signaled a total ban on ivory trading, the U.S. already has banned it and other nations, including Britain, are considering it, he said.
Vietnam, one of major transit points and consumers of trafficked ivory and rhino horns, for the first time destroyed seized ivory and rhino horns last weekend, he said.
"But here is the problem: We know that we aren't moving fast enough to keep up with the crisis," William told the Third International Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Hanoi. He said that the Great Elephant Census published this summer confirmed our worst fears about the shocking 30 percent decline in the African elephant population in just seven years.
"So while we've made progress, the truth is we are still falling behind. A betting man would still bet on extinction," he said.
Organized crime syndicates are much more agile, he said, adding that although authorities have stepped up controls at ports and borders, most illegally poached products are still slipping through the net.
"Attitudes on the use and purchase of illegal wildlife trade products are proving harder to shift than we might have liked," William said, alluding to mistakenly held beliefs that rhino horns provide a cure for cancer. "In this part of the world we have to acknowledge the truth that newly aspirational consumers are still demanding more, not less ivory and rhino horn."
He said the poachers are learning to be quiet and are much harder to track. "Their brutality continues to escalate with many more rangers killed since we gathered in London two years ago," he said.
Vietnam Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh said that her country is facing many challenges in protecting wildlife and ensuring economic growth, such as raising awareness in local communities and improving their livelihoods as well as limitations in prosecuting and convicting criminals.
Ishaam Abader, deputy director at South Africa's Environmental Affairs Department, said that that the number of rhinos being poached has slightly dropped last year compared to 2014. However, the number of poachers entering wildlife parks has increased.
"So in essence we are winning the fight so to speak. But obviously if you use one strategy, the poachers use another strategy, we have to try to remain one step ahead of them all the time," he told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference.
He said that South Africa is developing multiple strategies to ensure the success of the fight to protect rhinos.
"We don't only focus on anti-poaching, we also focus on demand reduction and increasing rhino populations by diversity management," he said.