Illegal Wildlife Trade

Vol.LI No. 2 2014

This issue takes a closer look at poaching and illegal wildlife trade, with a focus on causes and possible solutions.

All of the great apes of Africa, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas are endangered by human population growth, habitat destruction, illegal trafficking of apes for entertainment, private zoos and hunting.

The illegal trade in wildlife and timber has escalated rapidly and globally, and now encompasses a wide range of flora and fauna across all continents, including terrestrial and aquatic animals, forests and other plants and their products.

Blighting vulnerable nations, wildlife and forest crime has become a serious transnational threat to the security, stability and economy of entire countries and regions.

Wildlife and forest crimes exact a terrible price from developing countries and their communities. Fragile ecosystems are destroyed and biodiversity is reduced.

With 180 States (called Parties) signatory to the Convention, CITES is the principal instrument in regulating international trade in wildlife. Over 35,000 species of wild plants and animals are listed in its three Appendices,5 each corresponding to differing levels of trade control to ensure that trade is not detrimental to the survival of species in the wild.

Preventing crimes which harm our natural resources is critical to protecting these species, but so too is reacting when these crimes occur to catch the perpetrators and ensure they face justice.

Now a US $213 billion industry, environmental and natural resource crimes such as poaching, illegal logging and wildlife trafficking are growing every year, putting natural resources and biodiversity at risk.

The effective monitoring and control of transboundary movements is a key component of wildlife protection. In most countries, this task falls upon Customs which is at the forefront of efforts to counter wildlife trafficking and ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is practiced legally by implementing the provisions of the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as relevant national legislation.

In February 2014, 42 countries met in London and signed the Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade, where they made a collective commitment to end this scourge, help communities that suffer from its side effects and protect endangered species.

Killing elephants for their ivory, slaughtering tigers for their pelts and bones, and fatally hacking the horns off rhinos have reached epidemic proportions in recent years.

Poaching is a persistent global problem with a profound effect on the East African region. The international demand for ivory and rhino horn is fuelling catastrophic declines in the elephant and rhino populations in Kenya, Tanzania and throughout Africa.

According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, at the turn of the 20th century, India was home to 40,000 tigers. Today their number in the wild does not exceed 4,000. This story echoes that of other animals, such as one-horned rhinos whose population declined to fewer than 2,400 in India.