“Environmental Genocide” - The Illegal Trade in Wildlife

23 May 2014, By Jonathan Clayton

Today the earth is being plundered and raped at an unprecedented pace. Criminal gangs, cashing in on immense wealth to be made from nature, are disfiguring our planet at such an alarming rate it will cease to exist as we know it in our lifetime. Rotting corpses of mutilated elephants and rhinos, their blood turning the surrounding earth to dark maggot-ridden patches, now stain many parts of Africa and Asia. Huge swathes of open space – bigger than motorways – run like jagged scars through once dense and majestic forests.

Tigers, hunted for aphrodisiacs, stand on the very brink of extinction while sharks, their fins hacked off, sink to horrible deaths. This “environmental genocide” will form one of the main topics of the inaugural session of United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) when it convenes in Nairobi on 23-27 June. It is covered by an official term - the illegal trade in wildlife which covers deforestation and illegal logging and trade n fauna. In the past decade, wildlife trafficking – the poaching or other taking of protected or managed species and the illegal trade in wildlife and their related parts and products – has escalated into an international crisis. The statistics are staggering. Last year, a report entitled "Elephants in the Dust - The African Elephant Crisis", showed how increasing poaching levels, and loss of habitat were threatening the survival of African elephant populations in Central Africa and previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa.

The report - produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) - says that systematic monitoring of large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia is indicative of the involvement of criminal networks, which are increasingly active and entrenched in the trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia. However, wildlife trafficking is both a critical conservation concern and a threat to global security. It has significant effects on the national interests of the many countries, both in the developed and developing worlds. The involvement of criminal gangs, and overlapping issues of drugs and human trafficking, can undermine governments and the fabric of whole societies.

Another recent report from UNEP and Interpol detailed that between 50 to 90 per cent of logging in key tropical countries of the Amazon basin, Central Africa and South East Asia was being carried out by organized crime threatening efforts to combat climate change, deforestation, conserve wildlife and eradicate poverty. Globally, illegal logging now accounts for between 15 and 30 per cent of the overall trade. Deforestation, largely of tropical rainforests, is responsible for an estimated 17 per cent of all man-made emissions - 50 per cent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined.

The Rapid Response Report entitled "Green Carbon: Black Trade" says that the illegal trade, worth between an astonishing US$30-100 billion annually, hampers the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) initiative - one of the principal tools for catalyzing positive environmental change, sustainable development, job creation and reducing emissions. With the increase in organized criminal activity, INTERPOL has also noted associated crimes such as murder, violence and atrocities against indigenous forest dwellers.

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