RAMESH PRASAD BHUSHAL
CURBING WILDLIFE CRIMES
Body parts of more than 1,400 tigers have been seized across Asia in last 13 years, which is about half of the world’s total population of wild tigers (estimated at 3,200). The report published by TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, titled Reduced to Skin and Bones Revisited , revealed this alarming fact during the meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok last week. This shows how rapidly the illegal trade of wildlife parts has grown globally. Not only the tigers but many wild animals including elephants and rhinos have been poached and many will fall prey to illegal traders if conditions remain the same.
Poaching of African Rhino in South Africa has grown from 13 in 2007 to 658 in 2012. In last decade more than 1,500 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone. Likewise, in 2011 an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 elephants were killed by poachers for ivory trade in Africa. Many more crimes remain unreported. This is more than enough to illustrate that the global wildlife crime is increasing rapidly and actions taken by governments is inadequate.
With this global scenario, the South Asian region—comprising of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—that is home for 15 percent of the world flora and 12 percent of fauna has also been hit hard by networks highly active in transnational organized wildlife crimes. Despite efforts of governments and other concerned agencies to nab the poachers, the criminal networks are using advanced technology and exploiting weak law enforcement to transport wildlife body parts in the region.
Billions of dollars are invested across the globe to conserve forests and wildlife, while millions of people are committed to saving these endangered species. But at the same time well-networked criminal groups are earning billions by selling wildlife body parts and plant species, thus threatening many endangered flora and fauna. If this trend continues, the efforts of the world conservation community in the last few decades will go to waste. The world now has to realize that unless immediate actions are not taken and joint efforts are not initiated to nab the criminals and break their strong networks, the future generation will have no option than looking at posters and pamphlets of many species now in endangered list.
According to estimates, the annual transaction in animal body parts is more than US $10 billion, turning it into the third largest illegal trade after weapons and drugs. On the one hand wildlife are facing problems due to habitat degradation, human encroachment in the jungles and parks, rapid urbanization and increasing human population and their demand for forest products and at another hand, criminal networks are targeting the species and killing them for money, which might ultimately result in the extinction of the species that are already threatened or endangered.
There are some encouraging signs as the wildlife trade has started to receive attention of leaders across the globe, including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On November 8, 2012 Clinton gave a rare keynote speech on wildlife trafficking at her office in Washington DC where US diplomats from all over the world were invited. “Over the past few years wildlife trafficking has become more organized, more lucrative, more widespread, and more dangerous than ever before,” she said while also admitting that the US is the second largest consumer of the wild body parts. The seriousness of top level leaders in US has been applauded by the conservation community.
China is said to be the largest consumer of wildlife body parts. However, the number of consumers is increasing all around the world. With the economic boom, the number who can afford expensive wildlife body parts has also increased demand that has encouraged the criminals. The organized criminal networks are using poor families near national parks and protected areas for poaching and are trading body parts of poached animals through various trade routes across the globe. South Asia is one of the major trade routes. The traders in illegal wildlife parts have been using various routes to smuggle body parts into China and South East Asia as well as bringing various parts of South Asia.
The issue of illegal wildlife trade entered the global arena in 1960’s and in 1973, the international agreement called Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was signed, with the goal of controlling wildlife trade. Till date 177 countries are parties to the convention. The sixteenth meeting of the parties to the convention was held in Bangkok in the first two weeks of March where the trade issue was debated with gusto. Though governments across the globe had realized as far ago as 40 years that wildlife crime needs to be dealt seriously, their actions proved to be inadequate to control the rapidly growing illegal trade of species all over the world.
The governments agreed in Bangkok that only strong enforcement of laws related to wildlife crime could help curb this problem but at present, there is lack of adequate information sharing between the countries on illegal wildlife trade. There is still very little willingness to share information regionally and globally. As animals are poached in one country and transported to another, there needs to be a cooperation and collaboration mechanism between the countries and strong willingness to share available information and intelligence as fast as possible so that the traders can be nabbed and punished on time. This is yet to happen in South Asia, even though there have been some initiatives in last few years.
Though late, action against wildlife crimes is increasing and governments have started to act more seriously. Almost all regions in the globe have established regional networks to act closely and enhance cooperation and collaboration to fight wildlife crime, which has raised hope in conservation sector. In South Asia, eight countries have established a regional network called South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN). The government of Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat in Kathmandu which has been working to enhance cooperation among member countries.
It’s not easy for the countries to share all information due to security reasons, but they can definitely share information regarding wildlife as wild animals have no political boundary and we are all in the common cause of saving wildlife in the region, which in turn will be instrumental in saving global ecosystems. The willingness of the countries in South Asia to enhance cooperation and collaboration to fight illegal wildlife crime has cheered up the conservation community, for it is the one and only way of curbing illegal transnational trade of wildlife.