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MEASURES: Countries must make wildlife crime a serious crime in their own legislation, write Yury Fedotov and John E. Scanlon
OORGANISED criminal networks are trafficking in endangered species, driving them to the brink of extinction. We need to act before it is too late.
In 2011, 25,000 wild elephants were illegally killed in Africa, primarily for their ivory.
Over the past few years, poachers killed the last wild rhinos in Mozambique and Vietnam. The world's population of tigers has dwindled to around 3,000 in the wild.
These are some of our most emblematic species, but wildlife crime is also robbing the natural heritage of people and states.
Wildlife crime ranks among trafficking in drugs, arms and human beings in terms of profits. It is an economic crime often perpetrated by criminal syndicates operating in the most remote regions of the world, exploiting people and lax laws or enforcement for gain.
The nature of wildlife crime has also changed.
Gunmen and flatbed trucks have been replaced by helicopters and automatic weapons. The animals in their sights have little chance in this gory pursuit for profits.
Behind the gun teams are sophisticated supply chains using modern technology, as well as bribes and corruption, to deliver animal parts to every corner of the earth.
Courageous but underpaid park rangers are often outmanned, outgunned and outwitted in a deadly game of hide-and-seek with poachers. Ranger services have been retrained to spot illegal kills, but have had to call in the military to do their job. Profits are enormous. In East Asia and the Pacific, profits from illegal wildlife trade are conservatively estimated at US$2.5 billion (RM8 billion) annually.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime calculated in 2011 that the total value of the illegal global wildlife trade was between US$8 billion and US$10 billion annually, excluding timber and marine wildlife.
This surge in the wildlife heritage theft of many states cannot continue. Many of the species teeter on the edge of extinction, and we need to fight back. But how? First, we must acknowledge the scale of the problem to give ourselves the means to tackle it.
Understanding what needs protecting is a priority and has been one of the raisons d'être of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora since 1973.
The convention regulates and monitors international trade in more than 35,000 wild species to ensure that this trade does not threaten their survival. Underpinning the fight against wildlife crime and CITES decisions is a commitment made in the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.
But for these conventions to be effective, countries must make wildlife crime a serious crime in their own legislation. And to win the fight, they must deploy the techniques used against illicit drugs, such as undercover operations and controlled deliveries, where contraband is not seized, but tracked to its destination, to catch the people involved.
Today, during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, an event in New York will bring together many of the key actors involved in the fight against wildlife crime.
At that meeting, we intend to deliver the same key message: Let's make wildlife crime a serious crime in national legislation, apply enforcement measures throughout the enforcement chain, build a rapid response, share intelligence and break the power of the criminal networks while halting their profit flow.
The CITES Secretariat and UNODC are also partners in the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, alongside Interpol, the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.
Together, we strive to cover every base -- economic, social and environmental -- to stop the traffickers profiting from this crime.
It is essential that we do the serious work to drive criminals out of business. If not, we will be left explaining to future generations how we started to lose the struggle against wildlife crime under our watch.
Yury Fedotov, is executive director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and John E. Scanlon is secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora