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New report: Wildlife crime has transformed into a multi-billion trade

China today has the largest ivory market in the world, much of it carved from poached African elephant tusks./PHOTO/ELEPHANTS IN THE DUST REPORT

By PATRICK MAYOYO

The huge growth in wildlife crime mainly associated with wildlife trafficking has since transformed into a transnational crime billions of dollars for among others terrorist groups, a new report by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime ( GIATOC) says.

And while wildlife crime narratives have concentrated largely on the ‘war on poaching’ and how wildlife trafficking generates income for terrorist groups, it has since evolved into a transnational organized crime, worth billions of dollars .

“The reality is that wildlife crime has grown to become a major form of transnational organized crime, worth billions of dollars, and affecting every continent. This realization has seen a recent shift towards understanding the dynamics of this illicit economy and dismantling the organized criminal networks that underpin it,” the study notes.

The says this shift has come with a few transformative successes, where patterns of wildlife crime have changed as the killings have stopped and large volumes of wildlife products no longer transit some countries and regions.

“This report describes some of these cases. As wildlife crime increased in seriousness and profitability and evolved into an organized crime type, it developed corrupt support systems and associated illicit financial flows,” it adds.

The reports reveals that crime convergence occurs when criminal economies, networks and/or trafficking systems mature enough for convergent relationships and systems to develop and become established.

It adds deeper understanding of the wildlife crime value chain and its convergence with other types of organized crime will help to disrupt more wildlife trafficking networks, reversing biodiversity declines and other negative ecosystem impacts of wildlife crime.

The report aims to contribute to this understanding by analyzing the dynamics and breadth of crime convergence related to the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in Eastern and Southern Africa, as well as where on the wildlife crime value chain convergence is happening.

“Using a simple system that characterizes convergence as either network, hub or broker convergence, this report draws on interviews, case studies and detailed research. It finds hub convergence to be prevalent in all of the key logistics hubs investigated, and broker convergence to be present in all of the cities and towns researched,” it observes.

The wildlife crime value chain typically starts with the poaching or illegal extraction of wildlife products and includes the various stages of trafficking these products before getting them to the final market. The report finds that most crime convergence occurs further along the value chain, meaning that it is associated with the trafficking of wildlife products rather than the poaching of wildlife.

However, the report does give an account of crime convergence linking the poaching of abalone in South Africa with local gang-related drugs markets and extortion rackets, as well as crime convergence linking the poaching of lions, pangolins and elephants in Niassa Special Reserve in northern Mozambique with illegal gemstone and gold mining and the illegal importation of pesticide poisons (for use in wildlife poaching).

“Crime convergence with wildlife trafficking sees the same transporters, dealers and brokers moving multiple illicit products – for example, the illicit gemstone trade and illegal wildlife trade (IWT) from northern Mozambique to Malawi; abalone and drugs, and rhino horn and cash-in-transit heists in South Africa; and drugs and ivory in Tanzania,” it adds.

It says at key ports and hubs, illicit wildlife products are trafficked using the same corrupt systems as other illicit commodities being trafficked through those ports or hubs – for example, tortoises, gold and heroin through Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, and rhino horn and drugs through Maputo and OR Tambo airports.

Overall, the report details significant amounts of convergence between IWT and other types of organized crime. The report finds that crime convergence seldom occurs at the extreme supply side (that is, the poaching end) of the wildlife crime value chain.

“This means that most poachers are not hardcore criminals involved in multiple types of organized crime. However, the rhino poaching illicit economy in South Africa and southern Mozambique is an exception to this trend,” it notes.

The report details case studies where organized wildlife crime networks have been dismantled, changing the risk dynamic for criminals, and resulting in sustainable and transformational reductions in wildlife crime.

The report adds several critical parts to achieving this include, strengthening intelligence analysis, building the capacity to prioritize and target criminal networks for maximum impact, effective investigations, and ensuring effective prosecutions with deterrent sentences and financial sanctions.

“Strengthening courts, prosecutions capacity and the criminal justice system will have positive impacts for tackling all crime types, and for strengthening governance and rule of law more broadly,” it emphasises.

This report finds that corruption and money laundering are fundamental to organized crime. Thus, investigating and mitigating these should be integrated into all investigations.

Building resilience to corruption can be done by focusing on organizational cultures and values, inclusive and values-based leadership, selecting staff with the right qualities, attributes and values in the criminal justice system, and by developing a sense of belonging, recognition and impact among staff the report says.

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