The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, ranking only behind drugs, human and weapons trafficking in scale.
With a growing share of the world’s flora and fauna hurtling toward extinction, collaboration on an international scale is desperately required. This year, delegates met at the latest Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”) in Geneva to address what can be done.
CITES aims to set the rules for international trade in wild fauna and flora, to protect around 5,800 animal and 30,000 plants species. The convention seeks to ensure wildlife trade is legal and sustainable, while heightening protections to prevent and reverse declines in wildlife stemming from illicit trade.
Tackling wildlife crime
As is often the case, collaboration is key to hitting such a difficult target.
The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) brings together five non-governmental organizations, including Europol, the UN, the World Bank, the World Customs Organization and CITES itself. Its mission is to strengthen criminal justice systems and provide coordinated support at national, regional and international levels to combat wildlife and forest crime.
ICCWC hosted three high-profile events at CITES to highlight the actions authorities can take to effectively respond to wildlife crimes and the organized crime behind them. Through its Strategic Programme 2016-2020, ICCWC supports customs, police, wildlife authorities and criminal justice systems around the world to respond to wildlife crime.
The first event examined the importance of supporting the development of appropriate law enforcement responses and targeting them to combat wildlife crime. The outcomes and impacts of regional and global operations, in particular the series named “Thunder,” were evaluated. One example is Operation Thunderball, a crackdown on the illicit trade of reptiles and exotic pets involving 109 countries that StopIllegal reported on in June 2019. It resulted in over 1,800 seizures globally; close to 600 suspects were identified, triggering multiple investigations and prosecutions worldwide.
The second event explored strategic approaches to address wildlife trafficking, focusing on enforcement operations and combating internet-based offenses.
Lastly, the ICCWC convened the Third Global Meeting of Wildlife Enforcement Networks, bringing regional, sub-regional and global groups, law enforcement officers and relevant stakeholders together to share experiences on strengthening efforts to fight wildlife crime.
In her opening remarks at the events, CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero highlighted the prevalent dangers of wildlife crime, and underlined the importance of ICCWC’s activity in protecting the world’s flora and fauna. “Wildlife crime continues to pose a serious threat to many species, and the criminal groups involved are increasingly organized and constantly adapting their tactics to conceal their illegal activities and avoid detection. The good news is that the consortium will continue to work relentlessly with the law enforcement community, building capacity and making available the tools and services they need to bring these criminals to justice by enabling them to mobilize the same measures against wildlife crime as those used against other serious domestic and transnational organized crimes,” she said.
Enacted in 1975, CITES is a treaty between governments regulating international trade of wildlife and all wildlife products. Its goal is to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of wild plants and animals and that trade is legal and sustainable. Currently 183 party governments have pledged to uphold and enforce its regulations by implementing supporting legislation within their own borders.
Every three years, delegates from around the world gather at the wildlife convention to answer the overarching question of how to balance international commerce without driving species to extinction. And this year, CITES’ focus lay on strengthening existing rules and standards while extending the benefits of the regime to additional plants and animals threatened by human activity.
This year, summit members met to implement legislation to help protect endangered species by regulating the trade of animal by-products. Representatives discussed regulation implementation, and the convention’s progress in conservation. New proposals for listing/removing species from protection appendices were proposed and debated, and 500 endangered species were awarded essential new protections against international wildlife trade.
CITES aims to safeguard both iconic and unknown species for future generations and ensure that the biodiversity of our world’s fauna and flora continues to flourish. Find out more here.
Written by STOP: ILLEGAL