The amount of illegal ivory seized around the world as it is traded and sold has overtaken the amount of cocaine confiscated globally by authorities. This news comes as part of a new report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) detailing the scale and magnitude of wildlife poaching and the illegal trade in the subsequent products. The report also highlights how almost every country in the world is somehow linked to the wildlife crime, and therefore that we all have a shared responsibility to tackle it.
It is thought that ivory overtook cocaine in seizures in 2011, with data now suggesting that up to 30,000 elephants are slaughtered annually for their tusks, generating around 300 tonnes (330 tons) of ivory. This is generally shipped to the markets in Southeast Asia, but many other countries are complicit as they allow it to pass through their ports and borders.
It is this point that the UN report wants to hammer home, that despite the fact that these illegal wildlife products are not necessarily originating or ending up in one nation, almost every country in the world is still responsible for facilitating the trade.
“The desperate plight of iconic species at the hands of poachers has deservedly captured the world's attention, and none too soon,” explained UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov. “One of the critical messages to emerge from this research is that wildlife and forest crime is not limited to certain countries or regions. It is not a trade involving exotic goods from foreign lands being shipped to faraway markets.”
It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every single year. Rich Carey/Shutterstock
One of the main issues at present is that many endangered plants and animals can be sold legally in another country, even if it was illegally harvested in the country of origin. This is because broadly speaking, most wildlife laws protecting species only apply to those within the borders of those specific countries, and not to species abroad. The UN is therefore calling on nations to expand their laws to cover all endangered species illegally harvested anywhere in the world.
Not many species are free from the threat of illegal trade. photowind/Shutterstock
But this is not just a question of conservation and saving species from tipping into extinction. The profits made from the illegal wildlife crime is channeled into corruption, terrorism, and international crime rings. “The World Wildlife Crime Report shows the extensive involvement of transnational organized criminal groups in these highly destructive crimes and the pervasive impact of corruption, demonstrating that combating wildlife crime warrants even greater attention and resources at all levels,” said John E. Scanlon, the Secretary General for CITES, the treaty aimed at managing the global trade in wildlife.
Therefore the issue of wildlife crime, thought to be worth somewhere in the region of $10 billion per year, is one of much deeper and more serious importance than many realize. It requires all countries to come together and work in unison to stop the illegal trade.
Image in text: Illegally harvested rosewood is actually the single most seized, and therefore probably traded, wildlife product. WeStudio/Shutterstock