Wildlife crime denies our children their inheritance
Every day, animals are being senselessly slaughtered for their body parts or stolen from their natural habitats and trafficked to satisfy the exotic pet trade and vast swaths of forest are being destroyed to make expensive furniture or other wood products.
The damage that this worldwide predation has had on our environment and global biodiversity is staggering. An estimated 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2014. In the past decade, 1,000 rangers have been killed in the global struggle to protect wildlife. The fate of the pangolin, the most trafficked animal in the world, hangs in the balance. Like the rhino and its horn, it is thought to have mystical powers that can cure everything from acne to cancer.
Up to 30 per cent of the global timber trade is also estimated to be illicit and tropical deforestation now adds up to 10-15 per cent to global emissions. Like the damage done to conservation and the environment, the human cost is prohibitive.
Wildlife crime and its attendant corruption removes funds from social and economic development and threatens people's livelihoods, as well as national security.
To confront this crime, which generates billions of dollars in profits each year and uses many of the same smuggling routes as drug and human traffickers, the risk of detection needs to increase. Greater cooperation and coordination is needed, and policymakers and law enforcement agencies must prioritise this crime as a matter of urgency.
Last year's London conference on the illegal wildlife trade was the most recent of a series of international meetings on this issue and world leaders and representatives of international organisations called for greater political commitment and additional action. The steps considered by the conference participants included eliminating the demand for wildlife products, eradicating the markets for these goods, destruction of the seized products and enforcement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which regulates the international trade in wildlife.
But delegates also called for the criminalisation of poaching and wildlife trafficking and for these criminal offences to be termed "serious crimes". It was also proposed that money laundering and connected offences be closely reviewed, an acknowledgement that these were helping to further wildlife crimes.
Confronting wrongly-held beliefs about the efficacy and medicinal benefits of animal products is part of the work that can be undertaken in raising awareness about the illegal wildlife trade. Creating better understanding and dispelling widely-held myths through advocacy campaigns are crucial to reducing consumer demand.
To turn the tide against this cruel crime, there is also a need for sustainable wildlife areas that can return revenues to local communities and that are in harmony with local ecosystems. The supply chain for these illicit goods also has to be forcefully targeted, with both the private and public sectors checking the provenance of any purchases to prevent ivory and timber being delivered to legitimate marketplaces.
The narrative on wildlife also needs to change. Once considered to be an environmental issue most of all, there is a need for a change of mindset in order that policymakers prioritise this issue as a deeply damaging crime that has a huge effect on societies and communities.
On World Wildlife Day today, I call on the international community to recognise that wildlife crime is a crime under the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and that it continues to grow in size and scope. Any sanctions must reflect this.
I also urge the international community to acknowledge that this is an intergenerational crime and that the offences committed today will deny future generations their heritage. Everyone is impoverished by wildlife crime. To confront it we need a global partnership united in the belief that it's time to get serious about wildlife crime.
Yury Fedotov is executive director at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime
Updated: March 2, 2015 04:00 AM