Wednesday, June 12, 2024

EXPLORING THE ILLEGAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES

The conservation of endangered fauna and flora is a controversial and often emotionally charged subject on both the national and international front. Many developing countries resent the idea that highly developed countries want to prescribe to them on how they should manage their natural resources, when so many of their people are in dire socio-economic need. Countries like Zimbabwe are for example sitting on large stockpiles of ivory but are embargoed from selling these products which could generate much needed income for its inhabitants.

The trade in endangered species is largely controlled by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments and has currently has 179 member states. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. CITES works by subjecting international trade in selected species to certain controls. http://www.cites.org

CITES define “endangered species” as, species that are on the brink of extinction or those species in danger of becoming extinct if urgent measures are not taken to enforce the strict regulation of trade in such species. Comprehensive list of these species can be downloaded from the CITES website http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/species.php

Two further concepts merit closer inspection when defining the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species.
The first is “Illegal Trade” which includes the hunting, capture, possession, import, export or transport of any endangered species as well as the donation or receipt of any such species as a gift. The second is “smuggling” which involves the deceitful or unlawful import, export, trade or production of scarce goods, narcotics, alcoholic beverages and precious stones which is contrary to the law controlling the trade and production thereof.

The Nature & Extent of Illegal Trade in Endangered Species

Official statistics on the Illegal Trade in endangered species are not reliable. Countries such South Africa and Zimbabwe and Botswana, being big countries with large nature reserves and poor customs control at borders and airports, facilitate poaching and smuggling without the prospect of perpetrators being apprehended. According to Fitzgerald, the illegal trade in wildlife constitutes the second largest illegal market in the world, surpassed only by the trade in narcotics and followed by the illegal trade of weapons. As a guideline, TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) has calculated that wildlife products worth about 160 US billion dollars were imported around the globe each year in the early 1990s. In addition to this, there is a large and profitable illegal wildlife trade, but because it is conducted covertly no-one can judge with any accuracy what this may be worth. There is little criminological research available on the subject.

The Trade in Rhino Horn

In 1998 Swanepoel identified three categories of traders involved in the illegal trade of rhino horn namely poachers, runners and wholesalers. The poachers appear to be the first link in the chain and are primarily local people with a comprehensive knowledge of the environment which assists them in tracking and killing the rhino. The runners appear to be the middlemen who transport the rhino horn from the poachers to the wholesalers. As an ounce of rhino horn can fetch more than an ounce of gold in an Eastern Medicine shop the business is extremely lucrative. The poacher and the runner in most cases earn more than the average South African income, justifying the risks they take.

What did become clear from the analysis of dockets studied by the South African Police Services is that most of the poachers and runners were opportunistic criminals who chose to become involved in the smuggling trade. They tend to focus on a single species and very few cases were linked to other products such as ivory. Typically only one rhino horn was smuggled at a time. Some rhino horns were confiscated at the site of the poaching, but most recoveries took place away from the scene of the crime in offices, houses and vehicles. Recovered rhino horn is handed to nature conservation authorities for safekeeping but due to high levels of corruption often finds its way back to the market.

At the top of the food chain are the wholesale dealers, (who are not necessarily local) the big international crime syndicate lords. They are illusive, well insulated, protected and extremely difficult to trace and prosecute. What is certain is that they are wealthy, earning huge amounts of money, selling rhino horn into insatiable markets.

Motivational and Contributory factors

Besides the obvious financial motivation common in this type of crime, the motivational and contributory factors pertaining to the illegal trade in endangered species are varied and depend on the species involved. In her 1997 article The illegal trade in endangered species, EE du Bois identifies a number of motivation and contributory factors to offences of this nature briefly discussed hereunder.

Cultural Issues and beliefs play a large part in the demand for rhino products among Asian communities where they are believed to be an aphrodisiac and for which they are prepared to pay large amounts of money. As long as these beliefs persist, it will be near impossible to control this market. In African culture endangered species are used as medicine by Sangomas and traditional healers both for curative purposes and to ward off evil spirits. With education many of these Sangomas have gained an understanding of the importance of protecting endangered species and today some work hand in hand with authorities in an attempt to protect such species.

Corruption plays a significant contributory role in poaching. The poor salaries generally paid to game rangers and conservation staff makes them susceptible to offers made by perpetrators requesting that they either turn a blind eye to poaching or actively participate in illegal hunting.

Inadequate law enforcement and legislation is a serious problem in Africa. Anti-poaching strategies are often not sophisticated enough and need to be upgraded and properly planned and implemented on a continuous basis keeping pace with the continuously evolving modus operandi of perpetrators. Laws need to be strengthened and applied consistently by the courts. Sentences need to be significantly harsher in order to deter perpetrators from participating in crimes of this nature. International cooperation between police services can be problematic and touches on issues of sovereignty and territoriality. Political and economic interests frequently hinder police cooperation which is vital in the prevention of cross border illegal trade in endangered species.

Inadequate customs control is a major problem in Southern Africa. du Bois maintains that customs control is more focused on collecting taxes that on preventing illegal trading in endangered species. She goes on to point out that customs control is inadequate at ports of entry and exit, making it easy for smugglers to operate largely unchecked and without fear of apprehension. She points out that the Department of Customs and Excise is ill equipped to mount effective and continuous operations to combat illegal smuggling. Additionally as with game rangers customs officials are generally poorly paid and when offered bribes or threatened they will often look the other way.

What can be done to curb or control illegal trade in endangered species?

As long as there is poverty and dire economic need, poaching and illegal trading will continue. Private owners and government should work on educating local communities about illegal trade and the importance of sustaining natural resources, securing their cooperation in combating these crimes. By working together with local communities and providing them with opportunities to sell their products and art inside of nature reserves these community members can become stakeholders in the preservation of endangered species and at the same time communities can benefit from the economic upliftment. Education and awareness programs about the importance of conservation, aimed at the youth can assist in changing mindsets and promoting awareness of the problems we are facing.

Interagency cooperation both across borders and internally is vital to curb poaching and illegal trading. International agreements on environmental protection, coordination and enforcement of environmental legislation should be prioritised and should transcend both political and economic interests. The informer system is poor and should be developed, however funds are necessary to motivate informers to approach law enforcement with information.

Remuneration of staff members working in conservation should be addressed. Poorly paid staff are usually more open to corruption as are poorly paid law enforcement officials.

Law enforcement should be well manned and well equipped and officials should be provided with top notch logistical and technical support including night vision and communications equipment. Their vehicles should be well maintained include quad bikes, motor cycles, helicopters and four-wheel-drive vehicles. An infrastructure to support rapid deployment should also be developed. Training directed at securing successful convictions of perpetrators should also be a priority for law enforcement and they should work closely with prosecutors to attain this goal.

Legislation should also be consistently reviewed, developed and even simplified so that laws are clearly understandable to law enforcement personnel and easier for the courts to enforce.

An effective data base should be established and shared with interested parties. This would assist stakeholders in profiling, identifying, and tracking organised crime syndicates and organisations and contribute towards infiltrating networks involved in the illicit trade of endangered species, identifying supply routes and intercepting product bound for markets.

Allowing the controlled trade in products of endangered species is another possibility although this faces opposition from most Western members of CITES. It would allow countries with stockpiles of ivory or other products to dispose product legally in part easing the insatiable demand from the illegal markets. However the monitoring and controlling of this trade would bring a whole new set of challenges to the table.

What is Botswana doing to curb the illegal trade in endangered species

Many endangered species included in the CITES appendices are endemic to Botswana. Botswana implements CITES Resolutions and Decisions closely, prohibiting trade where necessary and enforcing stricter domestic measures, e.g. Use of parrots is for personal effects and no commercial trade allowed within the country.

Endemic species are accorded protection in the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act, 1992. With the hunting ban currently in place, no one shall be allowed to trade in any wildlife especially species that are endangered.

There are extension services within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. This Division provides public education through awareness to communities on any wildlife conservation and management related issues and community involvement in wildlife protection.

Anti ÔÇô poaching has become a National priority with all security agencies involved in Anti ÔÇô Poaching

What agencies can you approach to report Illegal Trade in Endangered Species in Botswana
Reports can be made anonymously. Please call the following people should you be aware of any illicit trade: Director of Wildlife & National Parks ÔÇô Dr Oduetse Koboto Tel: 3996502 email: [email protected] or Mr Charles Mojalemotho Deputy Director (Operations) Tel: 3996582 email: [email protected]

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