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Wildlife trafficking: a US$23 billion trade that’s destroying our planet

Wildlife trafficking: a US$23bn trade destroying our planet

BETWEEN 2007 and 2013, rhino poaching in South Africa increased by 7,700 per cent. Rhinos, which are poached for their horn, aren’t the only victims of this illicit trade, which is driving many species of wild animals and plants to extinction: elephants are poached for ivory, tigers and leopards for their skin, pangolins for meat and scales, and iguanas are caught for the pet trade. Rare timber is targeted for hardwood furniture.

With a value of between US$7bn and $23bn a year, illegal wildlife trafficking (including trophy hunting) is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans and arms, reveals Wolfgang Lehmacher  [pictured above], head of supply chain and transport industries at The World Economic Forum. On its own, trophy hunting is estimated to create around $200m in annual revenue, of which only three per cent of fees paid for the hunts reach local communities.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution for tackling illicit trafficking and its sustainable development goals are specifically targeted at the safeguarding of protected species. More than 7,000 species, in 120 countries, are at risk.

Fighting this type of corruption requires civil servants – including properly paid, equipped and trained park rangers – along the entire supply chain. And awareness needs to be raised and measures increased.

Collaboration to break the wildlife trafficking chain

As with many businesses, the role of transportation and logistics has become the backbone of modern enterprise and is also the key enabler for the trafficking of wild animals and wildlife products. The transportation and logistics sector therefore plays a critical role in identifying and eliminating risks along the supply chain, Lehmacher notes. In light of the surge in wildlife crime, the industry has been taking a range of actions to break the chain between supply and demand.

At the end of January 2015, TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (TRAPS) Project, convened a pivotal two-day consultative workshop, with delegates from shipping and logistics companies, airlines and courier and transport associations – all of them seeking solutions to deter wildlife smuggling activities.

Two months later, representatives from logistics and transportation companies operating in China made a public declaration pledging their zero tolerance towards illegal wildlife trade. The 17 logistics attendees, which included EMS, DHL, FedEx and SF Express, account for 95 per cent of the Chinese courier market.

In the same month, the Declaration of the United for Wildlife International Transportation Taskforce on the Transportation of Illegal Wildlife Products – which is focused on 11 commitments to bringing an end to the illegal trade – was signed by some 40 corporations, agencies and organisations, including Maersk Line, Kenya Airways, IATA and the World Customs Organisation (WCO).

Many airlines have already banned hunted-trophy shipments: these include Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Following the killing of Cecil the lion in early July 2015, Delta Airlines banned all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies from its cargo holds; United Airlines and American Airlines later followed suit.

Wildlife trafficking: a US$23 billion trade that’s destroying our planet

Rhinos are poached for their horns

In June of this year, at its 72nd annual general meeting, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) adopted a resolution denouncing the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products and calling upon its member airlines to consider adopting appropriate policies and procedures to discourage the trade.

US embargoes are significant. Walter Palmer, who killed Cecil, is one of the estimated 15,000 American tourists who visit Africa each year on hunting safaris. Although he had a permit, and was not charged with any crime, Cecil was an illegal kill.

Modern technology can stop wildlife trafficking at the root

Although breaking the chain is important, it is more effective to stop wildlife and forest crime at its roots. It is hoped that the application of satellites, drones and internet live-streaming devices will enable new solutions to capture the crime taking place and then inform law enforcement agencies and the general public in real time. Solutions like this could not only protect wildlife and forests, but also support important initiatives in many fields and areas, such as deforestation, illegal fishing and natural disasters.

Hi-tech involvement has already begun: Global Forest Watch is providing data and high-resolution alerts; and Witness, established in 1992 by Peter Gabriel with the help of Human Rights First and its founding executive director Michael Posner, trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change.

Building these new tools requires support from the private and public sector, international organisations and consumers. Until new hi-tech solutions arrive, collaboration in fighting corruption and wildlife and forest crime along the supply chain needs to be tightened and strengthened. This month, leaders and experts are in Johannesburg for the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. They are discussing a dedicated resolution on prohibiting, preventing and countering corruption facilitation activities.

As Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says: “We all share a responsibility to act where we can.” Hidden in fashion items or furniture, disguised as food or pets, the products of wildlife and forest crime find their way into our homes and lives. So we all have a responsibility to act.

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum.

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