The celebration of World Wildlife Day reminds us of the need to effectively combat crimes against wildlife and biodiversity as a whole.
Environmental crime is an extremely lucrative illegal business comparable to drugs, arms and smuggling. According to estimates by INTERPOL and the United Nations Environment Programme, in 2018 environmental crime represented an approximate turnover of between 91 and 258 billion dollars.
Wildlife trafficking: the figures
If the volume of illegal business gives us a macro vision of the problem, its magnitude can be appreciated through some alarming figures:
- 83% of wildlife in Latin America has disappeared since 1970;
- 90,000 live animal species were confiscated in Peru between 2000 and 2018, according to the Peruvian organisation SERFOR;
- More than 20,000 elephants are illegally hunted each year for their ivory;
- 20% of the Amazon has been deforested or destroyed in the last 40 years;
- 50% of Panamanian forests are deforested according to the Ministry of the Environment of Panama.
However, the figures only reveal the visible side of the problem. That side that has been possible to investigate and bring to light thanks to researchers, committed public and private entities, and a truly active civil society.
Effective regulatory development: a pipe dream?
At the legislative level, although most countries have advanced regulations prohibiting trade in protected species, compliance with them can be improved in many cases.
In addition, a significant number of legislations only include classifications for the most “eye-catching” environmental crimes, such as illegal mining, pollution, deforestation and timber trafficking, or wildlife trafficking. Thus they ignore other extremely important crimes such as the illegal trade in materials that affect the ozone layer, urban planning offences or fire-raising. In this regard, it is necessary to update regulations and their effective implementation and control.
Another aspect we must consider together is that of the penalties established for trafficking and illegal trade in biodiversity, compared to those for drug trafficking or trafficking in arms and human beings. Indeed, the imposition of light penalties is attracting organised criminal gangs seeking a quick profit with minimal risk. In many cases, the law establishes administrative penalties for actions against nature that should be treated as felonies or criminal offences.
The demand for wildlife: the main problem
The growth in the demand for wildlife for many uses explains the exponential increase in illegal trafficking in biodiversity in recent years.
Some examples are the cases of trafficking in eels due to their consideration as a delicacy and their high market value; big cats like the jaguar or the panther used as trophies and for the sale of their furs and fangs; pangolins for use in traditional Chinese medicine; or amphibians as decoration.
For many years the pressure has been on the countries of origin, mainly in Africa and Latin America. They were required to carry out inspections and prohibitions before these left their countries. In this work plan, it was assumed that the responsibility fell entirely on the authorities of the country of origin. However, this approach did not bear fruit of any relevance.
Taking on the relevant responsibilities of transit countries and, above all, of buyer and destination countries, is vital to tackling the problem. To this, there should be added the need to establish effective channels of communication and exchange of information between countries and judicial and police institutions.
The initiatives to tackle the problem are many and varied, as regards countries and international and regional organisations, as well as civil society and private entities. However, some coordination is needed to prevent cases of duplication.
In this regard, perhaps it would be interesting to work alongside consumer societies on changes in culture and tradition, in order to obtain successful and sustainable long-term results.
CITES is an international multilateral agreement ratified by 183 countries whose objective is to ensure that international trade in wildlife and plants does not threaten their survival, particularly that of species in danger. For this reason, since its entry into force on 1 July 1975, CITES has established specific lists of protected species whose commercialisation is illegal.
There are currently more than 5,800 animal species and 30,000 plant species registered and protected by the CITES Convention in its Appendices I, II and III. The information can be consulted on the website speciesplus.net.
The Jaguar Network to protect wildlife
EL PAcCTO has been working since 2018 to boost the fight against European and Latin American environmental crime. An effort that has already paid off with the Jaguar Network. The network, created in 2019, is active and brings together police officers specialised in environmental crime who exchange information and strategic intelligence between the two regions.
The countries that make up the network are: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Panama, the Netherlands, Peru and Portugal. EUROPOL also participates in the network, and it benefits from collaboration with INTERPOL.
Since the creation and institutionalisation of the Jaguar Network, it has directly or indirectly supported the carrying out of 11 international investigations.
Marc Reina, thematic manager of the Police Cooperation component of EL PAcCTO