China (!) Leads Crackdown on Wildlife Trafficking
Posted by Richard Conniff on February 11, 2014
This report comes from CNN. To put it in perspective, the announcement is undoubtedly timed to this morning’s opening of the Wildlife Trafficking Symposium in London. (More on that below.) Even so, it’s gratifying to see China take the lead against an illegal wildlife trafficking epidemic it has, up to now, largely tolerated and paid for:
A wildlife operation involving dozens of countries and organizations, seized more than three tons of ivory and a bevy of rare wildlife products as well as rare wood.
Operatives found rare animals — both living and dead — during the international, month-long operation.
The China-led transnational effort, codenamed Cobra II, aimed to crack down on illegal wildlife trade. Authorities recovered over 10,000 live European eels and pig-nosed turtles, as well as over 2,000 live snakes, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.
They also seized three tons of ivory, 36 rhino horns, and over 1,000 hides and skins from tigers, leopards and snakes as well as several hundred kilograms of pangolin scales from wildlife traffickers.
The operation included 27 other countries including the United States. The effort had the support from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the World Customs Organization and Interpol, reported Xinhua.
During the operation, China’s law enforcement officials suspected a Chinese man of being the head of an ivory trafficking group after customs staff at Taoxian Airport in northeast China found luggage containing 1,226 ivory beads, according to Xinhua.
Both Chinese and Kenyan police cooperated in the investigation and suspected that the man, whose last name was reported as Xue, operated a crime ring buying, transporting and selling ivory.
Xue was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya on January 17 and extradited to China, the news agency reported. His arrest marks the first time China has arrested a wildlife crime suspect overseas, the report said.
Read the full article here.
In London, meanwhile, John Robinson, the chief conservation officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society made some key points in his opening statement:
“This symposium is less about political consensus and more about prioritizing the strategies and approaches. This symposium is about reaching a technical and scientific consensus on what is feasible if we want to hold onto the species under threat—indeed, not on the problem, but on the solutions.
“There is a broad consensus on the nature of the threat to conservation:
1. The present scale of the illegal trade is huge – it is now being valued at more than $19 Billion a year.
2. The impact of the trade on species of high commercial value has been dramatic: the loss of African elephants of between 25 and 40 thousand animals a year; African forest elephants (the cyclotis subspecies) in particular have been devastated by poaching and have declined by about 76 percent since 2002; dramatic declines in many tiger populations since the early 2000’s, with their extirpation from Vietnam and Cambodia; increases in the number of African rhinos being poached over the last 5 years, and a very significant decline in the proportion of horns being recovered by law enforcement.
3. Much of those in the illegal wildlife trade are primarily well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons.
4. The corrupting influence of these criminal organizations cannot be overemphasized. Those charged with regulating and managing wildlife – government officials, police, park staff, the military at both local and national levels – often have little incentive to do their jobs, and every incentive not to do so. Wildlife officials in particular are often poorly paid, under-recognized, and sometimes not paid at all for long stretches of time.
5. Many of these criminal networks have links with terrorist or militia networks: locally the trade undermines the rule of law and threatens local community development and livelihoods; revenues from the trade promote further corruption and civil unrest.
“The breakdown of effective governance affects conservation and natural resource management more broadly.
“The SCALE, URGENCY and PERVASIVE BREAKDOWN in governance means that our options are limited.
“Those options can be broadly placed in three categories:
1. Protecting and managing wildlife populations on-the-ground (“Stop the killing”). We know this can work. Effective monitoring and enforcement on the ground have been demonstrated to be successful in Central Africa, forest elephants occur at densities seven times higher in sites with ecoguards than those without ecoguards; parks and protected areas in Asia, even if not always well managed, remain the refuge for tigers – 42 “source sites”, which cover an area of only 6% of the tiger’s present range, account for 70% of the remaining tiger population; effective protection at Nagarahole National Park in the western ghats of India since the early 1970s has supported a 400% increase in the tiger population.
2. Controlling the illegal trade flow of wildlife products (“Stop the Trafficking”) might be the greatest challenge. It is here where the criminal networks have their most direct impact. By definition, the trade is underground; is fed by corruption; and assessing the extent of the trade is difficult. Controlling the trade in one area or in one country can just shift the illegal trade elsewhere. Nevertheless, locally and within specific countries we have seen some successes, and in the course of this symposium we will learn from some of these – such as the Wildlife Crimes Units in Indonesia.
3. Reducing the consumer demand for wildlife products such as ivory and rhino horn is essential if on-the-ground protection and control of trafficking is to have any chance of success. Necessary steps to reduce consumer demand are efforts to increase consumer awareness about effect of the illegal trade. But ultimately efforts must shift attitudes so that consumer behavior changes.