The problem with fighting the illegal wildlife trade

The inspector-general of police recently added another name to a long list of poachers and traffickers. The involvement of VVIPs in the illegal wildlife trade shows the need for action not only against criminals and crime syndicates, but wealthy and influential individuals connected to organised crime.

Given the number of poachers and traffickers, addressing the issue will require taking down the network itself, including the corrupt government officials. VVIPs play an important role in this network and use their status in big businesses to benefit themselves and their organisations.

Utilising legitimate businesses as a front for illegal activities provides a channel for these items. This also includes trading and shipping companies.

These individuals have powerful connections with government officials, politicians and the elite. These players can be from other countries and, given the fact that governments do not effectively collaborate in investigations, probes become further complicated.

Poaching is on the rise in national parks and areas designated for animal conservation, showing the lack of fear for new anti-poaching laws and a lack of respect for borders. If protection is given to an endangered wildlife population, they will target another species.

Corruption is another factor among government officials, agencies and rangers. This has profound effects on the extent of poaching and wildlife trafficking. Corruption plays an important role in facilitating wildlife crimes, and undermines efforts to enforce laws established to prevent such illegal activities. Local communities are often willing participants in the illegal wildlife trade.

The problem with the illegal wildlife trade is that it is often seen as the purview of conservationists, biologists or ecologists. Tackling the illegal wildlife trade is nearly impossible because even when the so-called kingpins are arrested, they are easily replaced by their colleagues.

Experts say it’s time to treat this billion-dollar enterprise in the same way as other serious organised crimes, by adopting tools commonly used in fighting drug lords and other crime kingpins such as anti-money laundering techniques and financial investigations. These areas are neglected but can provide crucial information about the structure of the illegal trade – by following the money. The job of tackling wildlife crime needs the involvement of criminal experts, including money-laundering experts.

Corruption and weak regulatory frameworks may offer several opportunities to criminal organisations to launder the proceeds of crime. A one-size-fits-all approach in tackling wildlife trafficking is unlikely to be effective. Individual case-dependent solutions must be developed if the wildlife targeted by trafficking is to be saved.

Meenakshi Raman is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.