For the World's Wildlife the Clock Is Ticking, But Is Anyone Listening?

25/05/2016 10:19 | Updated 25 May 2016

Across the world thousands of animals, as well as marine and plant life, are under pressure due to the disastrous impact of wildlife crime. For many of these animals there is little hope of survival without our immediate help. Driven by this sense of urgency, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published the first World Wildlife Crime Report founded on a detailed analysis of the impact of transnational organized crime.

The report's findings make truly depressing reading and they require the world to sit up and to start listening to a problem that, if action is not taken soon, it may be too late. Perhaps the report's central message is that wildlife crime is not simply a national or regional problem, it is a global crime. Every country in the world plays a role, either as a source, transit or destination country. This calls for joint action based on shared responsibility.

Nearly 7,000 different species, according to the report, have been accounted for in more than 164,000 seizures, affecting 120 countries. Animals and plants are on a criminal conveyor belt transforming them into furniture, food, footwear, perfume, and pets. Just as disturbingly, wildlife products are often hidden in plain sight. Some illegally traded forms of wildlife, such as ivory, feed primarily into illegal retail markets, while other illegally acquired products such as reptile skins are sold through legal outlets.

What the report also shows is that today's criminals are highly adaptive, and though painful to admit, extremely sophisticated in the methods they use to commit wildlife crimes. Over and over again, criminals exploit gaps in legislation, law enforcement and criminal justice systems. To bring the fight to the criminals, UNODC has identified key actions that can help support the current responses of the international community.

First, if we are serious about saving our wildlife, we must ensure that national laws criminalize the possession of wildlife illegally harvested or traded from aboard. Criminals need to be aware that if caught they will face serious sanctions. One important step is to criminalize the possession of wildlife that was illegally sourced anywhere in the world.

Second, source countries must be assisted to develop sustainable livelihoods for hard pressed communities, and to strengthen capacities to protect their natural heritage. We cannot ignore the very real links between humankind and nature. Third, if we are to stem the tide, we must be vigilant at points of entry such as ports. Strengthening the capacities of customs and border control officials must be a priority.

Fourth, law enforcement responses need to properly identify species. This relies on wildlife forensic science, including DNA and isotopic analysis. New protected areas for flora and fauna should also be considered by the international community.

Finally, corruption is the taproot for almost all wildlife crime. Along with its poisonous cousins, forgery and fraud, corruption is a major facilitator of wildlife crime. Countries need to tackle corruption in their supply chain and I encourage every nation to adopt and fully implement the UN Convention against Corruption.

All of these actions need to be undertaken in partnership. UNODC already works with other organizations, in particular the CITES Secretariat, as well as the other members of International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, namely the World Customs Organization, INTERPOL and the World Bank. But, if we are going to succeed, we need everyone involved.

UNODC's report provides a solid understanding of the scope and scale of the problem, but realisation needs to become action if we are to help the world's animals and plants. The clock is ticking, but is anyone listening?