Wildlife crime is booming business
Daan van Um, a young criminologist specialized in wildlife crimes defended his thesis today at Utrecht University in Holland. Van Uhm investigated illegal trade in wildlife with a focus on import in the EU. He also describes how drug gangs have gradually infiltrated or even taken over the trade in protected species. In Burma’s golden triangle the gangs now have switched from the heavily controlled opium market to the less risky but equally lucrative trade of products like rhino horns.
Next to the illegal large-scale trafficking of tortoises and birds, it is estimated that as few as 5,000 Barbary macaques remain in Morocco, partly as a result of the illegal trade. llegal chinese traders in ivory are regularly arrested on African and Chinese airports trying to smuggle ivory. According to Chinese newspapers Chinese diplomats are often involved in the smuggle
Other examples of illegal trade are bones of tigers and scales of pangolins in China. Criminal organizations often cooperate with authorities and corrupt member of the policy forces. In China and Russia legal trade often functions as cover up or whitewashing of illegal trade activities. For instance, wild animals are traded with false certificates stating that they are produced by state controlled farms or nurseries. In this way, Russia manages to produce half a ton of Kaviar per year, with only few sturgeons kept in a pool as window dressing. Sadly, illegal trade and control of illegal certificates have a low priority for custom officials in Europe. According to van Uhm the regulations set up by Cite (the UN convention against illegal trade in wild animals) are complex and rather easy to get around by criminals. In some cases legally imported wild animals were even used as ‘drug couriers’: for example drug traders tried to smuggle across the borders large quantities of cocaine in condoms swallowed by pythons.
Van Uhm, D.P. (2016) Illegal trade in wildlife and harms to the world. In Spapens, A.C.M., White, R. & Huisman, W. (Eds.), Environmental Crime in Transnational Context. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.