Tragedy of the Wildlife.

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The tragedy of the wildlife is that we see it as a commons. We see it as a resource that we can exploit and kill at will. However, it is a finite resource and if we go on killing animals faster than they can reproduce, Mr Harding’s prophecy will unfortunately be real and the wildlife will disappear. Today wildlife is not killed for food, and very seldom for protection. Why then do we kill all these animals and sell their products? Yesterday I went to the launch of the Criminal Nature Report at the House of Commons. Representatives of the Government, Interpol and of an NGO called IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) were there, and it was an eye opener.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth a shocking 19 billion dollars each year and it is rising. It is the fourth largest global illegal activity after narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is bigger than oil, art, gold, diamonds, and small arms!!

There is a link between illegal wildlife trade and violent criminal and militant activities. Terrorist groups use the the trafficking of ivory, rhino horns and pelts of big cats to fund their operations. No wonder when a kilo of ivory is worth $2’200.- and the kilo of black rhino horn is worth $66’139.-. Direct links have been exposed with terrorist groups in East and Central Africa.  Worldwide, over 40% of criminal rings involved in illegal wildlife trafficking were also involved in criminal activities (Cali drug cartel, Medellin drug cartel, etc). The same routes used to smuggle wildlife across countries and continents are used to smuggle weapons, drugs and humans. And wildlife criminals are well versed in fraud, corruption, money laundering and murder. The heads of those activities are well hidden and organized.  It is only recently that a link has been made between the illegal wildlife trade and the threat to global stability and security. These people are highly organized and well protected. In Cameroon last year, in one raid in one day 700 elephants were killed and relieved of their ivory!!! This requires such manpower, arms and logistics that it is hard to believe that it can happen without top-level protection. And Cameroon is an African democratic country hailed by many as politically and socially stable. I could insert shocking images of elephants whose heads have been cut using chainsaws so that it makes removing the tusks easier, of almost extinct black rhinos suffering the same fate, and many more, but we have all seen some already.

I am passionate about protecting the wildlife. We used to share the same environment for thousand of years and were always able to solve any conflictual situation with wisdom. Since the invention of fire arms, a pull on the trigger has replaced analysis and peaceful solutions. We decimate and eliminate wildlife at will and for fun. We destroy their habitat in the name of progress, building roads, factories and towns, and now we say that animals are posing serious threats to humans as they are living too close to villages and towns, so we hunt and kill them. But who is posing the biggest threat to whom? The human or the animal? We enclose animals in National Parks where they are supposedly safe, but in the end make the poachers task easier by gathering the animals in an area where they can operate unseen.

I believe that ensuring the sustainability of its wildlife will ensure Africa a growing long-term source of income through tourism and that this is much better than any short-term profit which only benefits criminals and not the continent. We have to get this message across to communities so that poachers want to become wardens, therefore working towards sustaining their heritage and resources.

So what can we do?

First demand must be stopped and this has to go through education and communication. China is the biggest importer of such products as it is used in traditional medicine, sold as trinkets and as aphrodisiacs. They are seen as a sign of enormous wealth and power/potency (I wonder if there is also a link between the growing number of Chinese investment in Africa and the growing illegal wildlife market there). However surprisingly, the US is the second market followed by the EU.

Wildlife crime should be elevated to the level of other serious international organized crimes. Global wildlife enforcement strategies and networks should be developed. Legal policies and frameworks should be strengthen, and online wildlife crime has to be tackled. Unfortunately today wildlife trafficking is treated as a low-priority by many law-enforcement agencies and the fines imposed on caught traffickers are ridiculously small providing no real disincentive. Hopefully this report will change this and signs are that the world is taking notice. David Cameron is organising a global conference on the trading of ivory and rhino horn in London next February where 40 countries will attend, including China. And Kenya has announced that they will microchip the horn of every single rhino alive, in order to prevent crime and track the poachers.

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