WWF campaigner co-authors wildlife crime editorial
WWF campaigner Wendy Elliott co-authored an editorial entitled Wildlife crime poses unique challenges to protected areas for the IUCN journal PARKS.This summary was filed by WWF volunteer Shirley Muthu
Wildlife crime is now a multi-billion dollar industry involving well organized and violent criminal syndicates that target the most valuable wildlife species in protected areas around the world. It is the fifth largest international criminal activity after narcotics, counterfeiting, and illicit trafficking of humans and oil. Problems are escalating fast, in terms of both the scale of poaching and the sophistication of the methods used.
Protected areas are the most significant remaining habitats for the most valuable species of wildlife and are now under threat of delivering effective conservation. There is an urgent need for long-term changes in the management of such areas with more emphasis on patrolling and law enforcement, supported by a strengthening of the judiciary system. Increased efforts to address corruption and improve enforcement along the rest of the trade chain coupled with strategies to reduce consumer demand, are also paramount.
The professionalization of wildlife crime
Subsistence poaching has been overtaken by commercial theft of valuable wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn to supply the huge markets in Asia. Poaching gangs are better equipped, heavily armed and technologically astute. Protected area managers, rangers and their families face the threat of intimidation, attack and death by ruthless poachers who exploit inadequate patrolling and weak law enforcement. The amount of money involved has made the trade increasingly sophisticated, more violent and more susceptible to corruption, even from professionals within the system. Government concern is mounting over the implications for security, sustainable development and natural resources, and the impact on global health of unregulated movement of animal parts.
Implications for protected area management
The rising criminality associated with wildlife trading jeopardizes a consensus approach to management that works only when there is a broad agreement on values and aims, and where the system is closed to outsiders and free of violations to the agreements. Enforcement needs to be elevated much higher up on the list of management priorities towards performance based accountability. It is critical that adaptive tactical patrolling techniques are implemented with strong law enforcement monitoring systems that are location-specific and supplemented by informant networks. Sophisticated technology such as unmanned aerial patrol vehicles to facilitate patrolling and DNA profiling to track origin of traded animals, coupled with methodologies used to combat other serious crimes, need to be employed.
There are signs that the global community is now recognizing the scale of the threat facing wildlife and its implications for human society. Formation of the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime and the increasing engagement of non-environmental forums mark a new determination to bring the full array of enforcement measures against illicit trafficking. Governments are starting to be held accountable for wildlife crime and, most critically, high level politicians are increasingly acknowledging it as serious even though comprehensive action plans have yet to be addressed. On a practical level, penalties for wildlife trafficking are improving and on-ground responses to large scale poaching threats have increased significantly in some areas.
To date, the unique role of protected areas has received less attention. Urgent steps are needed to bring protected area agencies more centrally into strategic discussions concerning trade control; without their support – and without greater support from them in turn – these efforts are likely to be wasted.