Illegal poaching and trade of wildlife is a massive problem for developing countries, particularly those in Asia. Often these products find their way across borders—stuffed into suitcases, packed into trucks, and occasionally carried. Protected and endangered species are killed and sold for their organs, flesh, bones, skin, and scales, which are turned into tonics, ornaments, meat, and traditional medicines.
Of course this is an environmental problem. Many of these animals are endangered or protected. Of all the illegal wildlife product seizures in Australia last year, two-thirds were traditional medicines containing ingredients from endangered species. But this is also a development problem and a security one, too.
Global Financial Integrity (GFI) has estimated that the illegal trade in wildlife, excluding fishing, among residents of developing countries generates about US$8-10 billion annually.
This is no chump change, but these numbers are already underestimates of the true cost of illicit extraction to development, particularly for resources that have value in situ. Wildlife—particularly endangered species—have a recreational value, particularly to the massive ecotourism industry. One study, for example, recently used found the value of those protected areas to Costa Ricans from ecotourism is around US$68 million. Also, many people in developing countries use wild resources to diversify their livelihoods, including trading, handicrafts, or even formal employment. A study of Sekong Province, Laos, for example, found that local communities derived 71 percent of their total income from non-timber forest products. Declines in access to wildlife resources as a result of illegal poaching can cost those in developing countries income, livelihood diversification opportunities, and result in increased vulnerability.
Wildlife also has value in pharmaceutical research. Called genetic resources, many species of plants and animals have enormous, and largely unexplored, potential value in medical research and agricultural and industrial advances. The process of finding these resources is called bioprospecting. The aforementioned study in Laosfound the annual benefit of bioprospecting in the Province is approximately $13,659-$68,289 per year.
Unfortunately, when developing countries do not have the capability or resources to effectively enforce anti-poaching laws with guards and law enforcement officials, criminals find enormous profits in the practice.
One of the problems is that demand for ivory, rhino horn, tiger bone and other products of endangered species is skyrocketing. And as any fundamental economics course will teach you—when demand goes up, price goes up. And when price goes up, so does profitability. Richard Carroll, vice president of the Africaprograms at World Wildlife Federation notes: “last year was the worst year for rhino poaching in more than a quarter of a century. And this year looks like it may shatter that dismal record.”
But it’s not only the poachers that have noticed the increasing profitability of the illegal trade in wildlife. As Tom Cardamone, Managing Director of GFI has noted: “organized crime syndicates, militias, and even terrorist elements have taken notice of the profits that can be made in the illegal trafficking of wildlife.”
There is evidence that two al-Qaeda affiliate terrorist groups—Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami—are raising funds for their operations using illegal poaching of ivory, tiger pelts, and Rhino horns from a jungle in India. Earlier this year Sudanese raiders, armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, methodically slaughtered almost three hundred elephants for their ivory in a national park inCameroon. There was little the unarmed guards protecting the wildlife could do to help.
Richard Carroll points out “poaching is not just a conservation crisis any more. Long linked to drugs and arms smuggling around the world, it now also now poses a growing threat to the stability of governments in Africa–one that requires a both regional and international response.” And Justin Gosling, a criminal intelligence officer with Interpol’s environmental crime program, has noted: “Until five years ago, wildlife crime was not considered a big deal by enforcement agencies. Drugs and terrorism are seen as more important, but environmental crime is a far greater danger to communities.”
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