Wildlife & Forest Crime

Mozambique - EAL

Picture: what is left of the elephants in Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique (credit: Elephant Action League)

Wildlife crime, including illegal logging and fishing, worth up to $213 billion dollars a year and is funding organized crime, global terror groups and militias, according to a 2014 report by the United Nations and Interpol. The EU estimates that the illicit trade in wildlife nets up to 20 billion euros ($22 billion) each year.
Offences like poaching, trafficking in live or dead endangered animals and illegal logging, are complex phenomena where a variety of factors interact – cultural, social, economic and environmental – and often involve different actors.
The causes and the consequences of wildlife crime vary among countries, areas and local communities, but it always threatens the existence of many plant and animal species, hinders sustainable social and economic development, and has destabilizing effects on society.
For most countries, combating wildlife crime is unfortunately not a priority and almost always remains overlooked and poorly understood.
Wildlife offences enrich international criminal groups and enable corruption to flourish. Fraud, counterfeiting, money-laundering and violence are often found in combination with various forms of wildlife crime. The risk involved is low compared to other kinds of trafficking, like drugs, but the profits are very high. It’s now clear that wildlife trafficking has wide national and international security implications, but governments tend to see the problem as just an environmental issue and the global fight to wildlife crime is failing.
Wildlife crime is now the most immediate threat to several species including elephants, rhinos, big cats like tigers, lions and cheetahs, apes, pangolins, reptiles and birds, among many others. This illegal trade is driven by demand for ivory, horn, bones, scales and other parts for carving, ornaments, luxury items, and traditional Asian medicines, trophies, wild bushmeat and even live animals for pets and zoos.
Much of the international wildlife trade today is illegal and this makes difficult to know its exact scale.
Here’s some mind blogging figures:
Rhinos
Rhinos were once abundant throughout Africa and Asia with an approximated global population of 500,000 in the early twentieth century. The global population fell to 70,000 by 1970 and to just 29,000 in the wild in 2013 (with about 25,000 in Africa and the rest in Asia). In South Africa, home to 83% of Africa’s rhinos and 73% of all wild rhinos in the world, in 2015 poachers killed 1,175 rhinos for their horns, a slight decline compared to the 1,215 killed in 2014, but offset by rhino poaching rates in neighbouring countries.
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White rhino, South Africa (credit: Elephant Action League)

 

 Elephants
Elephants are among the most exploited animals in human history and probably no other wildlife ‘product’ influenced so much the fortune or misfortune of an entire continent like ivory. A few numbers are enough to describe the elephant’s tragedy in Africa:
  • 27 million elephants in the early 19th century
  • 5 million at the beginning of the 20th century
  • around 350,000 – 400,000 today
Just during the last three years poachers have killed an estimate of 100,000 elephants.
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Ruaha National Park, Tanzania (credit: Elephant Action League)

 

Lions 
Over the past 50 years, wild lion numbers in Africa have decreased from over 200,000 to less than 20,000 today. In China, lion bones are soaked in rice wine, in Vietnam and Laos the bones are made into a paste with herbs and used to treat a variety of ailments. Unlawful activities in and around the trophy hunting industry facilitate the poaching and the illegal trade.
In Western Africa the situation is catastrophic. A six years survey in 11 countries found an estimated total of only 250 adult lions occupying less than one percent of that historic range.
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Tanzania (credit: Elephant Action League)

 

Tigers
A hundred years ago, the world’s tiger population stood at a 100,000. There are as few as 3,890 tigers in the wild today (2016). We lost 97% of the world’s tiger population in just one century. Two-thirds of the world’s tigers live in India, where they’ve increased from 1,706 to 2,226 during the past five years.
Poaching have contributed to their status as critically endangered and it is driven by demand for tiger bones and other body parts for use in Chinese ‘medicine’.
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Amur tiger (credit: Elephant Action League)

 

 

Pangolins
It is estimated that over 1 million pangolins were traded illegally over the past decade, making them the most trafficked mammal in the world.
The main threats to pangolins in Asia are poaching and trafficking driven by the trade in their meat and scales, mostly destined for China and Vietnam. In Africa the threats are the same, they are eaten as bushmeat but also illegally traded and shipped to Asian markets, with the complicity of traders in transit countries like Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

Pangolin 1 - EAL

 

Apes 
EAL - wildlife crime 05Almost 3,000 live great apes are trafficked from Africa and Southeast Asia each year, and this trade is increasingly impacting wild populations.
The report Stolen Apes, which was produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) through GRASP, estimates that a minimum of 22,218 great apes have been lost from the wild since 2005 – either sold, killed during the hunt, or dying in captivity – with chimpanzees comprising 64 per cent of that number.
The illegal trade in orangutans originates in Indonesia (Borneo and Sumatra). They are captured and illegally traded for food and for the domestic and international pet trade.

 

 

 

 

 

Latin America: the overlooked and largely underestimated illegal wildlife trade
Wildlife poaching and illegal trade is thriving in Latin America, fuelled by the international markets, animal dealers and collectors in the United States, Europe and Asia.
According to a recent Defenders of Wildlife report, between the years 2004 and 2013, there where nearly 50,000 products and over 7,000 animals from Latin America seized at the U.S. borders alone.
Among the most trafficked wild animals and products from Latin America there are birds (especially parrots), turtles, shark fins, caimans, iguanas, see cucumbers and totoaba.
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Illegal logging
The impacts of illegal logging vary widely, depending on both the scale and the kind of illegal activity.
A research by Chatham House (Lawson & MacFaul 2010) concluded that illegal harvesting represented 35-72% of logging in the Brazilian Amazon, 22-35% in Cameroon, 59-65% in Ghana, 40-61% in Indonesia and 14-25% in Malaysia. Extrapolating from these figures, it was estimated that more than 100 million cubic meters of timber are harvested illegally each year.
Some reports have estimated as much as $17 billion dollars’ worth of illegal trade flows only from the East Asia Pacific region, while in Mozambique, over $20 million were lost to state revenues in 2012 from unpaid taxes on exports to China (EIA 2013).
Illegal logging creates social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime, corruption, human exploitation and human rights abuses. It is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.
But the problems are not just in Africa, Asia or South America. According to various sources, American companies and American workers lose an estimated $1 billion each year due to illegal wood entering U.S. markets.
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Gabon (credit: Elephant Action League)

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