Thursday, December 20, 2012

Criminal Syndicates Have Major Advantage in Illegal Wildlife Trade

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that international governments are incapable or reluctant to pace with activities operated by sophisticated criminal syndicates, thus allowing the illegal wildlife trade to rapidly extend. One of the examples highlighted in this report include the poaching of rhinos in South Africa which has bolstered from about twenty per year to an anticipated 600 in 2012. Several issues have endowed to this growth, but the most important factor is the surge in demand. The demand of rhino horns has swelled in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam due to the belief of their use in traditional medicines. This has resulted to prices of a single horn to being as high as approximately $600,000 while the ground version is worth an estimated $100,000 per kilo. In addition to rhinos, other endangered species have also become subject to this ongoing catastrophe. According to Peter Wittig, a U.N ambassador from Germany, 23 metric tons of elephant ivory-- a figure representing 2,500 elephants killed-- was confiscated in 2011. Overall, the report identifies the illegal wildlife trade to be worth about $19 billion per year making it fourth largest illegal international trade next to counterfeiting, human trafficking, and narcotics. One of the reasons that the illegal wildlife trade has been able to flourish is due to its use of the existent international narcotics chain. Much of the income is used to fund civil wars, obtain weapons, and sponsor terrorism-related activities.
A white rhinoceros in South Africa's Entabeni Wildlife Conservancy.
African elephant

Since most governments view the wildlife trade and poaching as a conservation issue and not an international criminal matter, addressing it was not a priority. This, as a result, made the illegal wildlife trade a force to be reckoned with. The recognition persuaded U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to advance the wildlife trade from a conservation issue to a national security threat. In response, the WWF held a conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City last week. At the briefing, the WWF and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC commanded governments to treat the wildlife trade as equal to other forms of corruption, money laundering, and trafficking. The two organizations also claimed that wildlife trafficking presents a promising threat to national authority.
Ivory tusks confiscated

I believe that this article should be taken as a wake-up call for governments all around the world to focus their attentions on tackling the illegal wildlife trade. In addition to claiming lives of endangered species worldwide, this ongoing threat also finances other illicit activities such as funding civil conflicts in places like Africa and sponsoring terrorism. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that governments should lend their support in helping national and international organizations specializing in protecting the world's wildlife to combat the wildlife trade. The WWF is now using new technologies in an effort to battle this threat. One recent method is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to search large areas for poachers. The WWF hopes that this technique will eventually function as an obstacle, and extend its use in Africa and Asia after a $5 million grant from Google. However, this does not mean that the illegal wildlife trade has been brought to its knees. Like the WWF and federal authorities, poachers and other operators of the wildlife trade have resorted to advanced technology in order to carry out their gruesome deeds. These include use of automatic weapons, helicopters, and night vision goggles. This is why the WWF, TRAFFIC, and other such organizations should team up with governments and their agencies around the world to take down criminal syndicates operating the illegal wildlife trade.
A cheetah in Dubai; victim of the exotic pet trade.

With good news for conservationists like the recent discovery of 126 new species in the Greater Mekong Area, poachers are sure to invade the area of discovery to target whatever species of animals present. If this means butchering them mercilessly for use in traditional Chinese medicine or selling them as exotic pets to consumers worldwide, so be it. Major cities like Dubai, have become a hotbed for the exotic pet trade leading to uneasiness amongst its residents. The illegal wildlife trade has joined forces with other forms of international crimes like narcotics trafficking, and benefiting similar factions like terrorism placing both people and animals in a state of global peril. It is time that the world realized that the illegal wildlife trade is an international criminal issue, and not just a conservation-related matter. The clock is ticking before the next animal or person becomes a victim of this global illicit business.

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