Illicit trade in wildlife has morphed into a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that is threatening national security and rocking government stability around the world. That’s according to a new report commissioned by WWF.
The environmental organization says that the illegal wildlife trade is perceived by organized criminals to be high profit and low risk. The enterprise is worth at least US$ 19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.
The operation certainly drives many endangered species towards extinction, but that is only a small fraction of the consequences. According to the report, this illegal trade strengthens criminal networks, undermines national security, and poses increasing risks to global health.
“Wildlife crime has escalated alarmingly in the past decade. It is driven by global crime syndicates, and so we need a concentrated global response,” says Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.
“It is communities, often the world’s poorest, that lose the most from this illicit trade, while criminal gangs and corrupt officials profit. Frontline rangers are losing their lives and families that depend on natural resources are losing their livelihoods,” he said.
The report also found that the trade of illegal wildlife products is run by sophisticated criminal networks with broad international reach. The profits from wildlife trafficking are then used to purchase weapons, finance civil conflicts and underwrite terrorist-related activities.
WWF’s website states that the involvement of organized crime syndicates and rebel groups in wildlife crimes is increasing. That’s according to interviews with governments and international organizations conducted by global advisory group Dalberg on behalf of the environmental organization.
The report also states that the absence of credible law enforcement, prosecution and penalties reduces the perceived risks for criminal groups. WWF reports that consumer demand is exacerbated by the increased accessibility of illegal wildlife products through the internet.
The report, titled “Fighting illicit wildlife trafficking: A consultation with governments”, was unveiled today at a briefing for United Nations ambassadors in New York.
For more information, head to: wwf.panda.org
Photo by Dan bennett