In recent months, as headlines and reporting in the biodiversity sphere have increasingly focused on the waning status of flagship species of rhinoceros[1], elephants[2] and apes[3], a number of international actors have undertaken a flurry of activity and first-ever steps to address the issue of wildlife crime. Although no formal, universal definition of wildlife crime has been established[4], this brief discusses activities related to the prevention of the poaching, illicit trafficking, and illegal trade of wild flora and fauna as they have unfolded internationally.

Making Connections

Wildlife crime and ways to prevent it have taken center stage in many fora for biodiversity policy discourse. It surfaced as one of the resounding themes of the March 2013 meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Countries all along the wildlife trade chain, including countries of origin, transit countries and market countries where the illicit goods are sold, have profiled their efforts to confront and deter illegal trade in flora and fauna. Select African countries, China, the EU and the US have all made headlines with symbolic gestures such as the public burning of ivory stockpiles and/or contraband seizures. Wildlife crime has also increasingly been linked by the UN and some country governments to sources of funding for a range of other proscribed activities including war crimes and terrorist networks; moves which have elevated the urgency of the issue.

As part of Biodiversity Policy & Practice and Forest Policy & Practice’s regular coverage of biodiversity and forest issues, we have routinely featured many of the stories emerging from the UN family of organizations on the issue of wildlife crime. This brief presents a summary of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services’ (RS) coverage of the actions undertaken mainly by multilateral organizations, with some references to supporting endeavors of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments. We encourage stakeholders to link IISD RS research to their own undertakings and aim to provide readers with an overarching, more comprehensive view of recent activities related to wildlife crime as they have been presented by our service.

A Little Over a Year in Review

The latter part of 2012 saw the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the US Government firmly linking wildlife crime to human and national security issues. The UN Security Council broached the issue by tying it to atrocities being committed in the Central African Republic. It issued a presidential statement on 19 December that “strongly condemned the ongoing attacks and atrocities carried out by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)” in Central Africa, and calls “on the United Nations and African Union to jointly investigate the LRA’s logistical networks and possible sources of illicit financing, including alleged involvement in elephant poaching and related illicit smuggling.”[5]

UNGA also took up the issue, adopting a draft resolution on ‘Strengthening the UN crime prevention and criminal justice programme, in particular its technical cooperation capacity’ (A/C.3/67/L.15/Rev.1). This resolution “expressed deep concern” regarding the trafficking of endangered species and emphasized the need to combat such crimes with criminal justice and law enforcement efforts.[6]

In the US, on 8 November 2012, then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton hosted an event, titled ‘Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action,’ in Washington, DC. The event brought together ambassadors and leaders from international organizations, NGOs and the private sector to energize and strengthen the global commitment to combat illegal trade in wildlife and promote conservation by placing it on the foreign policy and security agenda. Clinton called wildlife trafficking a national security issue, a public health issue, and an economic security issue.[7]

The urgency of addressing wildlife crime would gain further traction in 2013, especially as the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to CITES convened in Bangkok, Thailand. At this two-week session, wildlife crime emerged as a signature issue addressed not only by the CoP, but also in many events on the margins of the meeting.[8] At the conclusion of the CoP, the CITES Secretary-General wrote an editorial calling the meeting “A ‘Watershed Moment’ for Combating Wildlife Crime.”[9] In addition to the CoP adopting explicit measures to address wildlife crime, it established “Wildlife Incident Support Teams” (WISTs) to be dispatched at the request of countries, following serious poaching incidents.[10]

On the margins of the meeting, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) hosted a ministerial roundtable on transnational organized wildlife and forest crime[11] as well as the first global meeting of wildlife enforcement networks (WENs).[12] The latter meeting brought together ten WENs operating within Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, as well as proposed networks for Central Asia, West Asia and the Oceania/Pacific region. They discussed cooperation on poaching and illicit trade activities.[13] The ICCWC also held a session for its executive heads from the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO) to discuss its operations and future initiatives.[14]

In other CoP side-events, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) convened a symposium where the impacts of wildlife crime and efforts to prevent it were discussed among World Bank representatives, judiciary representatives and other stakeholders.[15] The UN University (UNU), with the Institute of Advanced Studies, put together a session to look into the use of technological collaborations to advance Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring Systems (WEMs).[16]

Finally, the CoP saw the release of two related reports. ‘Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis,’ produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), CITES, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and TRAFFIC, focuses inter alia, on the rise of ivory seizures en route to Asia and the involvement of organized criminal networks.[17] A report by GRASP, titled ‘Stolen Apes: The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans,’ makes similar connections to sophisticated transboundary crime networks.[18] As recommended in this report, in November, GRASP would launch the Great Apes Illegal Trade Database to monitor and support efforts to reduce illicit traffic in chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos.[19]

Further into 2013, UNODC announced programs and publications addressing the scope of illegal trade in wildlife and forest products. Along with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), UNDOC agreed on a campaign to be launched calling on tourists to help reduce demand for illicit goods and services linked to transnational organized crime. The measures were meant to target tourists that might be purchasing illegal wildlife products.[20] In addition, for the 22nd Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UNODC released a report on transnational organized crime in East Asia and the Pacific. [21] In the publication, it estimates the total value of the illegal wildlife trade in the region to be $2.5 billion, and the illegal trade in wood-based products to be $17 billion, an amount comparable to the value of illegal trafficking of people, drugs and counterfeit goods in the region.[22] At the close of this meeting, the Commission adopted a draft resolution on ‘Crime prevention and criminal justice responses to illicit trafficking in protected species of wild fauna and flora’ and recommended its adoption to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).[23] The final resolution notes with concern the involvement of organized criminal groups in the trafficking of endangered species.[24]

In the middle of 2013, UNESCO spoke out against escalating violence and poaching in the Central African Republic and its impacts on the area’s Dzanga-Sanga National Park, which is on the agency’s World Heritage List and hosts lowland gorillas and forest elephants. Around this same time, CITES held a meeting with the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL), and UNEP employed its Goodwill Ambassador, the Chinese actress Li Bingbing, to urge greater efforts by governments and consumers to combat illegal wildlife trade.[25] UNEP also launched a poster campaign in the Shanghai metro system to sensitize the public to the cost of illegal wildlife products, such as ivory and rhino horn. The agency also announced a new forensic method for dating elephant tusks. [26]

Wildlife crime was also taken up by the G8, with world leaders recognizing at their June meeting, the urgency of the issue and noting in their communiqué that the fight against illegal trade in wildlife is as important as fighting corruption, transnational organized crime and the illicit trafficking of drugs and people.[27]

In July, the US, through an Executive Order, established a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to be co-chaired by the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Interior, and the Attorney General.[28] Additional momentum on this issue came from the September announcement of a three year, $80 million Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to bring together stakeholders in an effort to stop African elephant poaching.[29]

Also in September, the Governments of Gabon and Germany held a high-level panel on the margins of the 68th Session of UNGA. The event, titled ‘Poaching and Illicit Wildlife Trafficking: A Multidimensional Crime and a Growing Challenge to the International Community,’ called for UN action against illegal wildlife trade.[30]

The final quarter of 2013 saw the organizations of UNODC, ICCWC, CITES, UNEP and INTERPOL taking steps to develop strategies, networks and actionable means against illicit wildlife trade. These organizations, the West Asian Parties to CITES and ASEAN met to discuss collaboration and the development of regional enforcement networks.[31] Regarding rhinoceros, the CITES Rhino Task Force, the ICCWC, UNODC, the World Bank, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and others, met to discuss illegal trade,[32] while the first-ever rhinoceros DNA sampling training session was organized inter alia by the South African Department of Environment Affairs and the ICCWC.[33]

Illegal trade was also a topic during the Snow Leopard Forum convened by the President of Kyrgyzstan in partnership with the World Bank Global Tiger Initiative (GTI), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), CITES, CMS, INTERPOL and other partners. At the Forum, Snow Leopard range States adopted the Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation which calls inter alia, for firm action to stop poaching and the illegal trade of snow leopards and other wildlife through comprehensive legislation and stronger national law-enforcement systems. [34]

In November 2013, INTERPOL and UNEP organized a conference on environmental crime that hosted the first Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee (ECEC) meeting. The Conference also held the 24th Meeting of the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, 18th Meeting of the INTERPOL Pollution Crime Working Group, and 2nd Meeting of the INTERPOL Fisheries Crime Working Group, all of which presented their findings to the ECEC.[35] The Conference also saw the launch of the Great Apes Illegal Trade Database by GRASP.[36]

At the end of 2013, UNODC released a report titled ‘Transnational Organized Crime in Eastern Africa: A Threat Assessment,’ which highlights the scale of ivory poaching and its threat to elephant populations in the region.[37] It also met with the ICCWC to develop guidelines for ivory sampling and analysis to be employed at wildlife crime scenes and by forensic laboratories.[38]

These activities occurred as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Botswana convened the African Elephant Summit. At this meeting, key range, transit and destination States urgently called for the development of a network of forensic laboratories equipped to trace the origin of seized ivory for DNA and isotopic analysis. The Summit also adopted measures to classify wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime,” an annotation meant to unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. [39] As this Summit was opening, INTERPOL announced the seizure of more than 240 kilograms of elephant ivory, 856 timber logs, and 20 kg of rhino horns, in addition to firearms and drugs.[40]

Momentum into 2014

The news at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 was marked by a number of actions at the national level. The Plenary of the European Parliament passed a resolution on ivory sales and wildlife crime,[41] while the US publically burned and crushed six tons of ivory in November.[42] Two months later, in January 2014, China followed suit, destroying, for the first time ever, 6.15 tons of seized ivory, a move lauded by UNEP, CMS, CITES, and TRAFFIC.[43] Soon after, Hong Kong announced a similar plan to destroy some 28 metric tons of stockpiled ivory.[44]

As this article was going to press, the UN Security Council adopted two resolutions, 2136 (2014) and 2134 (2014), which through sanctions regimes, address the links between wildlife crime and the finance of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.[45] In renewing the sanctions regime and arms embargo against the Congo, 2136 (2014) also targets “individuals or entities supporting armed groups in the DRC through illicit trade of natural resources, including gold or wildlife as well as wildlife products,” and calls for the investigation of criminal networks involved in wildlife poaching and trafficking.[46]

Though it remains to be seen how wildlife crime will evolve as a cross-sectoral policy issue, there is little doubt that it will continue to traverse biodiversity, trade, security and an array of development policy fora. As this occurs, IISD RS will report through its Biodiversity Policy & Practice and Forest Policy & Practice sites on news and outcomes from the UN family of organizations, governments and their counterparts on this issue.