By Stephen Wood
LONDON (Reuters) - Leading Premier League players, including Manchester City's Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, on Wednesday added their voices to a campaign to end the illegal trade in wildlife.
"The world must unite... to not buy ivory," , City's Ivory Coast midfielder Toure and Victor Wanyama, the Kenya-born Southampton midfielder, said in a video message released by the English Premier League.
The campaign, run partly by World Wildlife Fund UK and the Born Free Foundation, is aiming to highlight the plight of elephants and rhinos in Africa.
In the 30-second video, Wanyama and Toure were joined by Toure's brother, Liverpool defender Kolo, and City captain Kompany, who is of Congolese descent, in condemning the killing of endangered species.
The message was timed to coincide with a meeting on the illegal wildlife trade being held this week by the UK government.
The meeting, to which 50 heads of state have been invited, will discuss, among other issues, how to arrest the decline in the numbers of the wild African elephant, the Premier League statement said.
"When Premier League players speak out, the world listens," said Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation.
"Africa's elephants and rhinos were born free and they have the right to live free from the threat of poaching and the ivory trade."
The poaching of elephants for their ivory is at a record level, with at least 100,000 thought to have been killed illegally in Africa in the past three years, the Premier league statement said.
It added: "Based on the amount killed and illegal ivory confiscated in 2013 alone, it is estimated an elephant is being poached every 15 minutes.
"The rate at which rhinos are being killed for their horns, which is mistakenly seen as a medicine in some countries, is also rising at alarming rates."
UK Foreign Minister William Hague was quoted as saying last year: "The current level of rhino poaching is particularly, concerning with a 3,000 percent increase between 2007 and 2011.
"As a result, a rhino is now killed by a poacher every 11 hours. If this rate continues, rhinos will be extinct in our lifetime, something that was inconceivable just 10 years ago."
(Writing by Stephen Wood, editing by Ken Ferris)