The World Wildlife Crime Report 2020 released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the threat posed by wildlife trafficking to nature and the biodiversity of the planet.
The report throws light on the trafficking of some wild species – pangolins, birds, turtles, tigers, bears and many more.
When wild animals are poached from their natural habitat, butchered and sold illegally, the potential for transmission of zoonotic diseases – those caused by pathogens that spread from animals to humans – is increased, as per the report.
Facts & Figures
• Between 2014 and 2018, seizures of pangolin scales increased tenfold. The reasons for this increase are unclear, as per the report.
• Attempts to farm pangolins for commercial purposes have failed, and the loss of millions of wild pangolins to illicit markets cannot be sustained.
• Individual seizures made in recent years have been comprised of the scales of tens of thousands of pangolins, indicative of highly organized criminal operations.
• Reptile species are primarily traded for décor or fashion, for food, tonics, or medicine and for the pet trade and breeding. As the fashion industry has increased its support for conservation and sustainable use, live reptile seizures meant for the pet trade are becoming far more common than
seizures of reptile skins. This is especially true for tortoises and freshwater turtles, which constitute nine out of the top 10 CITES-listed wild-sourced live reptile species seized in the last 10 years. These species are sourced from a range of regions including South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa and West Africa. East and Southeast Asia, followed by the US and Europe, are their main destinations.
• Tortoise and freshwater turtle are primarily trafficked in small batches via air transport, in person or via post, to limit death in transit.
• All parts of the tiger are traded and used, for traditional medicine and for other purposes, but the bones are generally most sought after. Consumer demand has shifted in recent years with tiger product buyers purchasing these goods as a sign of wealth rather than for their health, the World Wildlife Crime Report 2020 said.
• While the count of seizures of tigers and their parts remains small, that number has risen from 2007 to 2018. Thailand and India are the main source countries for these seizures, although sourcing from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan is also ongoing. Given the large captive tiger population in Thailand, which has less than 200 wild specimens, most of these seizures likely involved farmed animals.
• As eels have never been successfully bred in captivity, the production of eel meat is a multi-billion-dollar industry entirely reliant on wild-caught juveniles, known as “glass eels”. Demand for eel meat is especially strong in Asia. As with other wild species consumed in growing Asian economies, local populations of eels have been overtaxed by growing demand, leading to a global search for alternate species. Eel meat is also consumed in Europe, but declines in European stocks, teamed with grow-ing international demand, led to the prohibition of the export of eel from the European Union in 2010, as per the World Wildlife Crime Report’s findings.
• The annual illicit income generated from ivory and rhino horn trafficking between 2016 and 2018 was estimated at US$400 (310 – 570) million for ivory and US$230 (170 – 280) million for rhino horn trafficking.
• The largest shares of income are generated at the retail level, where rhino horn and ivory are processed and sold to end consumers.
“Wildlife crime involving organized criminal groups is a serious crime. No country is untouched by these crimes, which impact biodiversity, human health, national security and socio-economic development, and line the pockets of organized criminal groups. The illegal trade in wildlife, which by definition does not go through proper sanitary and phytosanitary controls, can potentially lead to the spread of zoonoses, such as SARS-CoV-2 that caused the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report stated.
• Addressing the biodiversity crisis and its cascading effects cannot be done without acknowledging the negative impact caused by transnational organized crime and corruption, across the entire wildlife trafficking chain.
• As each country may be a source, transit and/or destination country, each has a role to play in acting to prevent and address these crimes through disruption and deterrence. Wildlife crime, like other organized crimes, must be addressed through a balanced approach that targets the complementary pillars of supply, demand and livelihoods, the report recommended.
• Galvanizing political will around the issue of the seriousness of wildlife crime has led to a series of high-level international political events, like the London Conference of October 2018 and the first regional conference of the Americas on the illegal wildlife trade in October 2019.
• This report indicates that corruption exists across all stages of the wildlife supply chain and can facilitate the illegal trade of wildlife. The international community has recognized the importance of the issue. In 2016, at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, a resolution was passed calling on Parties to take a broad range of measures to prevent and combat corruption linked to the illegal wildlife trade. In 2019, the 8th Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption adopted a resolution, the first of its kind, on preventing and addressing corruption linked to crimes that have an impact on the environment.
• Good risk management practices that enable profiling and targeting to detect and identify suspicious shipments and persons are crucial to effectively addressing crime, including wildlife crime.
• There is often a lack of clarity concerning the roles, obligations and mandates of national agencies as to where wildlife crime “fits” in the national context. Increasingly, wildlife crime impacts on a variety of sectors and increasingly, cases of convergence with the trafficking of other commodities are coming to light. As such, national agencies should cooperate, work collectively and share information, but full integration and cooperation at all levels is not the norm in many countries.
• The report underlined that there is an urgent need for a trans-disciplinary approach that ties together law enforcement, wildlife management authorities and other relevant authorities such as financial intelligence units, public health and safety agencies, administrative and local authorities. Countries could benefit from transnational organized crime units or other agency coordination/technical working mechanisms, including interagency platforms that promote an integrated and multidisciplinary response between decision-makers and technical officials at the federal and local levels.
• As both legal and illegal trade increasingly use virtual means, partnerships between law enforcement and technology platform partners like Facebook, WhatsApp, Alibaba and WeChat, amongst others, will be an important mechanism to prevent and disrupt illegal trade and should support efforts to regularly monitor specialist social media groups and other online sales channels for illegally-traded wildlife.
• Sustainable livelihood initiatives must go beyond eco-tourism, which has proven to be vulnerable in the face of travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, future-proofing livelihoods that focus on resiliency and can withstand the myriad challenges posed by the impact of climate change, pandemics and criminal exploitation must be considered as part of any national strategy for tackling wildlife crime, as per the report.
“Putting an end to wildlife crime is an essential part of building back better from the COVID-19 crisis. As we prepare the road to recovery, we have the chance to reset our relationship with nature and lay the foundations of a more just and more resilient world – working together to eliminate wildlife trafficking, prevent future pandemics and put us back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” the report stated.