Spotlight South Pacific Island Nations: Breaking the wildlife crime chain
Stuffing a deadly snake down your trousers and taking a 12 hour flight may not be in your top ten list of things to do before you die but for some ruthless (and either desperate or ignorant) criminals this dangerous activity can pay off big time.
Wildlife crime is an international industry made up of a chain of criminal acts – poaching is followed by illegal transport, processing, smuggling, sales, money laundering and so on – a deliberate sequence of criminality involving many sets of grubby hands.
Now ranked third behind the black market drugs and arms trade, wildlife crime is having a devastating impact, not only on the animals themselves but on biodiversity, the spread of disease and through funding organised crime.
The vast, incredibly beautiful and diverse region of the South Pacific is a playground for tourists and wildlife criminals alike. Endangered corals, orchids, marine turtles, whale bones, birds, lizards and giant clam shell items are commonly smuggled out of the region to be sold in Asia, North America and Europe.
In an effort to break the chain and halt this illegal and cruel trade IFAW runs training programs worldwide for government officials. Recently IFAW, together with the NZ Wildlife Enforcement Group, ran an intensive training program in Rarotonga, the Cook Islands capital. This was the fifth in the region, following Auckland, Samoa, the Solomons and Papua New Guinea.
25 senior participants from Depts of immigration, police, biosecurity, environmental services, marine resources and customs were put through rigorous training. During the five day course officials were instructed on how to profile likely smugglers, the tricks they use to hide plants and animals and how to mount enforcement operations and coordinate between agencies.
The final workshop in this series is scheduled for Vanuatu in June and will include the training of outstanding participants at previous workshops as trainers to build the capacity in each country.
While enforcement is vital in our efforts to break the chain, if no-one bought wildlife or wildlife products then the market wouldn’t exist in the first place. So, simply put, if we don’t buy, they don’t die.