Prince William has arrived in Vietnam to take part in an international conference on the illegal wildlife trade.
William, who is president of United for Wildlife, an umbrella group of eight major animal protection groups, met prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and vice-president Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh before the two-day conference starts in Hanoi tonight.
“He knows the people of Vietnam will share his concern that we have less than 25 years to save some of our most iconic species from extinction. He believes Vietnam has a real opportunity to be leaders in wildlife conservation,” the Prince’s office said.
William also attended an event featuring primary schoolchildren being inspired to protect endangered animals through a book called I’m A Little Rhino.
Funded by the government, the book dispels myths about the medicinal properties of rhino horn. He also joined the youngsters in a game of football.
The Hanoi conference brings together leaders and officials from more than 40 countries as well as experts from international wildlife conservation groups.
The conference is the third of its kind – meetings were held in London in 2014 and Botswana last year.
Vietnam is one of the world’s major transit points and consumers of trafficked ivory and rhino horns.
As William was heading for the conference, a hearing in the Hague was hearing the findings of a year-long undercover investigation by the Wildlife Justice Commission, an independent organisation of criminal justice, law enforcement and wildlife crime experts.
Executive director Olivia Swaak-Goldman said its investigation had produced “clear and irrefutable evidence of an industrial-scale crime hub” in Nhi Khe, 16km south of Hanoi, and that urgent, decisive action was needed. The commission has no power to bring charges.
Its officials described the village as a “supermarket for illegal wildlife trafficking”.
The commission says it has identified 51 people involved in the illegal trade in Nhi Khe, operating out of 16 shops dotted around the small village. The names have been given to Hanoi.
The undercover operation discovered $A70m / $NZ74m worth of black market animal body parts in five separate visits over the past year.
Investigators found the remains from up to 907 elephants, 579 rhinos and 225 tigers, as well as dead pangolin, bear, turtles and hornbills, smuggled from Africa and destined for China.
Covert videos showed shopkeepers weighing piles of ivory and rhino horn, while there were also hundreds of bangles and figurines. One elephant tusk was said to be worth $A38,250 / $NZ40,000, a fortune compared to the monthly salary of $A282.50 / $NZ300.
It was claimed that one woman trafficked an estimated $A3m / $NZ3.1m in products over a year from her mansion.
Swaak-Goldman said that “justice has not been activated in this case by the authorities in Vietnam, despite months of discussions and clear and detailed evidence”.
Vietnam is trying to shed its reputation as a hub for organised wildlife crime gangs, much of it based on a belief that rhino horn cures cancer.
On Saturday authorities destroyed 2253kg of seized ivory and rhino horns with a black market value of $A9m / $NZ9.66m.
According to national poll results, the demand for rhino horn has dropped by 38% and the number of people who think rhino horn has medical value has decreased by 25%.