Wildlife Crime

Posted on October 30, 2013


Wildlife Crime

I recently listened to an interview on the radio by two conservation activists talking about the state of wildlife trafficking globally. It made depressing listening. High on the agenda was the issue of ivory and the butchery that’s involved in removing tusks from elephants.

One of the interviewees said to the presenter, “imagine having your face hacked off, they (poachers) come armed with chainsaws and machetes – it’s very bloody!” The elephants all die, there is no other way the poachers can remove tusks from a beast that size.

While the image I had in my mind was brutal; nothing could prepare me for this image above. It’s left me sick to my stomach and absolutely stunned. It’s taken somewhere in Africa, there are no other details about when and where exactly it happened and whether there were arrests.

On Sunday I fly to Nairobi. The United Nations has asked me to moderate two sessions on wildlife crime during a 4-day conference. I clearly did something right in Wyoming. Among the delegates are heads of state; Interpol, CEOs and presidents from some of the major wildlife groups and other non governmental organisations – WWF, IFAW, CITES and TRAFFIC. The state of our elephant populations is something I intend to raise. Did you know that an elephant dies every 15 minutes? According to conservationists between 2011 and 2012 we lost a conservative estimate of between 20,000-50,000 elephants in Africa?

In May this year eight countries – supply states Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda; consumer states China and Thailand and transit states Philippines, Malaysia, and Viet Nam were named and shamed at a big conservation meeting in Bangkok as the worst ivory offenders. They were told to get their house in order or face sanctions. The treaty (CITES convention) which all of these countries have signed up to is there to ensure the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. But the sad reality is that anything that fetches a high price on the blackmarket is more than likely to be exploited. The treaty while it stands for good governance can’t do much unless the host countries themselves implement their own robust legislation. I am so sick of hearing excuses for not preventing wildlife crimes and for not punishing criminals, no matter where they fall in the chain.

What people fail to realise is that this type of crime is a threat to both national and global security – it funds terrorism. There are claims that the militant group Al Shabab gets 40 per cent of its financing through ivory. The average wage is about £1.60 in some parts of Africa. Ivory exploitation can fetch a local trader around £300 – and he is bottom of the food chain – you do the maths. The international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between eight to ten billions of dollars according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (excluding timber and marine wildlife). This type of crime remains outside of “mainstream crime” and is not recorded in the same way that murder, drug-trafficking and robbery are. But the networks peddling it are the same types of criminals using highly sophisticated equipment and techniques which span across national boundaries and continents. Fraud, counterfeiting, money laundering, violence, corruption, and the proliferation of arms are often found in combination with various forms of wildlife crime. New smuggling routes are popping up all the time – Malaysia is now the new hot transit hub in Asia and in Africa its Togo from Burkina Faso as well as Mozambique.

Until every country considers poaching a “serious crime” rather than a “misdemeanour” we are going to continue to rapidly lose our natural resources. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot for some developing nations because many of them rely heavily on eco-tourism which will simply dry up and stop altogether if there are no animals to see. Inadequate law enforcement, poor governance and corruption means officials are ill-prepared for those who are determined to steal and decimate our natural resources. The disparity between sentences across borders is enormous. The law in one country is not the same as the country it borders and while one convict may land a period in jail another may get a slap on the wrist, a nominal fine and walk free.

While I am excited to be able to have access to the “people who count” at this conference, I can’t help feel sceptical about the outcome and whether anything concrete will be achieved. We don’t have time on our side any more. In order to beat wildlife crime we must get countries to enforce stricter legislation that carries hefty penalties. In my opinion there should really be uniformity in illegal wildlife crime offences. Without it I’m afraid images like the butchered elephant will become the norm not the exception.

Posted in: Organised crime