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The Escalating Illegal Trade in Wildlife
20 March 2014, By Neville Ash, Chief, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Branch, and Biodiversity Unit, UNEP
The escalating illegal trade in wildlife has reached global dimensions. In addition to the direct impacts on biodiversity and natural resources, the increasing involvement of organized criminal groups, facilitated by huge financial gains and a low risk of detection and penalty, now poses a serious transnational threat to security. Such theft and illegal trade of natural capital and heritage is exacerbated by corruption and undermines the rule of law. The consequences for local communities include the loss of access to resources, community conflict and reduced income from tourism.
Across Africa, more elephants are poached than die of natural causes – with up to 90% of elephant mortality in Central Africa due to poaching. Poaching of rhinos in South Africa has increased by 7000% in the last 6 years, with over 1000 individuals poached in 2013. In South and Central America and across Asia and elsewhere, the illegal trade in wildlife – of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and plants, to satisfy domestic and international markets is also taking its toll on biodiversity, resulting in the loss of natural capital, and providing financial gain for organized criminal networks.
Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $15–20 billion annually, and an estimated €30-100 billion is lost through illegal logging globally each year1. The illegal trade in wildlife is recognized as the fourth largest global illegal trade, after drugs, humans and arms trafficking2, and at the higher end of estimates is equivalent in value to global official development assistance.
UNEP’s work to address the illegal trade in wildlife supports decision making amongst governments, strengthens the environmental rule of law, and raises awareness – including amongst consumer groups to reduce demand for illegally sourced wildlife products. As the leading voice on the environment in the United Nations system, the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife resources are central to UNEP’s current programme of work.
In addition to a symposium on the environmental rule of law being held in conjunction with UNEA, Ministers will also discuss on the topic of illegal trade in wildlife during a Ministerial Dialogue on the evening of 26 June.