Organized crime is wiping out wildlife

July 27, 2011
This is a slow loris from an illegal wildlife market in Southeast Asia. A Wildlife Conservation Society paper says that organized crime is wiping out wildlife. Credit: Elizabeth Bennett/Wildlife Conservation Society

A paper by noted WCS conservationist Elizabeth Bennett says that an immense, increasingly sophisticated illegal trade in wildlife parts conducted by organized crime, coupled with antiquated enforcement methods, are decimating the world's most beloved species including rhinos, tigers, and elephants on a scale never before seen.

The paper, published June 7 on the online issue of the journal Oryx, says that much of the trade is driven by wealthy East Asian markets that have a seemingly insatiable appetite for parts.

According to the paper, organized using sophisticated smuggling operations have penetrated even previously secure wildlife populations. Some of the elaborate methods include: hidden compartments in ; rapidly changing of smuggling routes; and the use of e-commerce whose locations are difficult to detect.

"We are failing to conserve some of the world's most beloved and charismatic species," said Bennett, who began her career in conservation more than 25 years ago in Asia. "We are rapidly losing big, spectacular animals to an entirely new type of trade driven by criminalized syndicates. It is deeply alarming, and the world is not yet taking it seriously. When these criminal networks wipe out wildlife, conservation loses, and local people lose the wildlife on which their livelihoods often depend."

For example, South Africa lost almost 230 rhinoceroses to poaching from January to October, 2010; and less than 3,500 tigers roam in the wild, occupying less than 7 percent of their historic range.

Bennett says an immediate short-term solution to stave off local extinction of wildlife is through enforcement of wildlife laws, and to bring to bear a variety of resources to supersede those of the criminal organizations involved. This would include everything from a sharp increase in the numbers of highly trained and well-equipped staff at all points of the trade chain, to , , and smart-phone apps with species identification programs.

"We have taken our eye off the ball," said Bennett. "Enforcement is critical: old fashioned in concept but needing increasingly advanced methods to challenge the ever-more sophisticated methods of smuggling. When enforcement is thorough, and with sufficient resources and personnel, it works."

On a larger scale, Bennett says that law enforcement agencies need to look at wildlife smuggling as a serious crime and its enforcement as part of their job. Encouragingly, Bennett points to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Asia, which has recently listed wildlife crime as one of their core focuses, and the potentially powerful International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime was signed into effect.

"Unless we start taking wildlife crime seriously and allocating the commitment of resources appropriate to tackling sophisticated, well-funded, globally-linked criminal operations, population of some of the most beloved but economically prized, charismatic species will continue to wink out across their range, and, appallingly, altogether."

Explore further: Study: Wildlife trade figures unreliable

Related Stories

Study: Wildlife trade figures unreliable

November 4, 2005

Wildlife trade reported by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora reportedly differs from government figures.

Study says 2000 tigers possible in Thailand

December 20, 2007

Thailand’s Western Forest Complex – a 6,900 square mile (18,000 square kilometers) network of parks and wildlife reserves – can potentially support some 2,000 tigers, making it one of the world’s strongholds for these ...

Decline in Russian tigers renews calls to end all trade

October 19, 2009

A shocking decline in the Russian Federation's wild tiger population highlights the importance of eliminating trade in and demand for tiger parts, the International Tiger Coalition (ITC) said today. The alliance of 40 organizations ...

Recommended for you

A novel toxin for M. tuberculosis

August 4, 2015

Despite 132 years of study, no toxin had ever been found for the deadly pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects 9 million people a year and kills more than 1 million.

New biosensors for managing microbial 'workers'

August 4, 2015

Super productive factories of the future could employ fleets of genetically engineered bacterial cells, such as common E. coli, to produce valuable chemical commodities in an environmentally friendly way. By leveraging their ...

Fish that have their own fish finders

August 4, 2015

The more than 200 species in the family Mormyridae communicate with one another in a way completely alien to our species: by means of electric discharges generated by an organ in their tails.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Gawad
not rated yet Jul 27, 2011
These laws and regulations are just interference in the market, aren't they Marjon?

They're just making criminals out of these poor businessmen! Demand and supply, man, demand and supply!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.