Poaching and illegal trade in protected species like elephants, rhinos and tigers has boomed into a $19-billion-a-year industry that threatens security and stability in many countries, the World Wildlife Fund warned Wednesday.
“Besides driving many endangered species towards extinction, illegal wildlife trade strengthens criminal networks (and) undermines national security,” the WWF said in a statement.
Poaching and the illicit sale of wildlife products has grown to be the fourth-largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking, the conservation group said as it presented a new report.
The sharp increase in poaching of endangered species in recent years is being fuelled by organised crime and is helping fund insurgencies, especially in Africa, said the report.
The study, which is part of a campaign aimed at getting governments to do more to stop wildlife trafficking, pointed for instance to the slaughter of hundreds of elephants in Cameroon last February.
In that incident, poacher gangs on horseback believed to have come from Chad and Sudan shot dead up to 450 elephants in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida National Park with machine guns.
The poached ivory is believed to be traded for money, weapons and military equipment for conflicts in neighbouring countries, according to CITES, a UN agency charged with protecting endangered species.
The Cameroon slaughter represented just a small portion of the more than 10,000 African elephants killed this year, WWF said, adding that in the past year, about two rhinoceroses have been killed each day in southern Africa — double the number killed in 2007, it said.
The main problem, according to WWF Director General Jim Leape, is that poachers and illegal wildlife traders run very little risk of being caught and punished.
“If we are going to be successful in cracking this problem we have to find a way to elevate its priority to the highest levels of government,” he told reporters in a telephone conference ahead of the release.
That includes cracking down more effectively in countries, especially in Asia, where soaring demand for illegal wildlife products has made the business so lucrative, according to CITES chief John Scanlon.
“In the past, a seizure at the border has been seen as a major success, (but) we need to move beyond seizures,” he told reporters.
Border police should allow the illegal wildlife products to go through and instead trace them to the person who made the order, he said.
“We need to find out who is ordering the contraband, find them, prosecute them and incarcerate them,” he said.