In the Spotlight: Illegal Wildlife Trade
By Lucy Lei, GIELR Online Staff Editor
Currently valued at US $213 billion, wildlife crime has escalated dramatically in recent years, and many species are in crisis as a result of poaching and illegal trafficking of their parts. The magnitude of the problem is particularly prominent in African countries with elephant and rhino populations. In this year alone, more than 700 rhinos have been killed in South Africa for their horns, partly as a consequence of many Asian countries using rhino horns as part of traditional medicine. Likewise, more than 35,000 elephants are killed across Africa each year for their tusks, which are prized for their use in making decorations and trinkets.
Even more troubling is the current trend in poaching carried out by organized criminal groups rather than poor villagers who kill the occasional animal to help feed their families. Income from ivory allegedly supports militia groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, which some may recognize as the group led by Joseph Kony.
On October 4th 2014, thousands of citizens in 136 countries around the world marched to bring renewed attention to illegal wildlife trafficking. Demonstrators took to the streets to pressure their governments to implement policies that will curb the poaching industry, which many fear is driving elephant and rhino populations to extinction. These protests, aptly named The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, sought to raise awareness and incite action to stop the world’s fourth largest illicit trade, topped only by the trade in narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.
Two other events earlier this year suggest governments are continuing to make a concerted effort to address illegal wildlife trafficking. In February 2014, delegates from forty-six countries, including some from African countries, met in London to adopt the London Declaration. The Declaration maintains that these countries agree to improve cross-border cooperation and to make investigating the links between wildlife trafficking and corruption as well as organized crime a priority.
In June 2014, the U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA) met in Nairobi to adopt the first ever U.N. Resolution dedicated to the illegal wildlife trade. The Resolution called for improved cross-agency cooperation within the United Nations to tackle economic, social, and security dimensions of the illegal trade, promote and implement policies of zero tolerance toward all illegal activities, and engage in stricter enforcement under the existing legal framework.