National Wildlife Crime Unit saved from extinction

INTERPOL estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $10-20bn a year.After weeks and months of speculation about its future and potential Government cuts, the Home Office and Department for the Environment for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced an historic four-year funding period for the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), securing its long-term future. 
 
This commitment by the Government means that the Unit can confidently plan future operations, continue to share intelligence with other law enforcement agencies across the world and retain staff. The funding decision really will help its fight against wildlife crime.
 
The NWCU was set up in 2006 and is a specialist police unit dedicated to tackling wildlife crime both at home and abroad. It provides intelligence and direct assistance to individual police forces and acts as a focal point for EUROPOL and INTERPOL on all wildlife crime-related matters in the UK, while also working in partnership with non-governmental agencies like IFAW who are committed to stopping the illegal wildlife trade.
 
INTERPOL estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $10-20bn a year, the fourth most lucrative black market after drugs, people and arms smuggling and it is often linked to organised crime.

The international leadership shown by the UK Government is critical at this time as the levels of illegal wildlife trade and poaching are driving many species to the brink of extinction.  
 
The United Nations Environment Programme has just released new figures showing a sharp increase in the illegal killing of elephants due to ivory poaching. This announcement on the future funding of the unit came at an important time as we encourage the world to invest in tackling the illegal trade, reduce demand in markets and fund counter-poaching operations.
 
IFAW and our supporters and partners have always been aware of the importance of the work that the NWCU does and many of you have lobbied Ministers and Members of Parliament to call for the continued funding of the Unit.
 
This announcement is a mark of that success in our fight against the illegal wildlife trade and a huge thank you has to go out to everyone who wrote to or lobbied their MP.
 
The icing on the cake came when the Government committed an additional £29,000 per year to specifically tackle online wildlife crime. IFAW has already conducted research showing that tens of thousands of live animals and wildlife items are traded over online marketplaces.
 
IFAW has submitted hundreds of intelligence reports to enforcers and subsequent prosecutions show that this is a burgeoning area of criminality. It also shows that governments have now officially recognised the role of the web and social media sites in the illegal wildlife trade, saying this was now “a developing area of global criminal activity”. 
 
Chief Inspector Martin Sims, who leads the Unit, said: “I am really pleased it is a longer term settlement, which gives us stability and allows us to continue to deliver the fight against wildlife crime.
 
Online wildlife crime is huge, and it was a question of having the resources to deal with it.”
 
This is one victory that we should all celebrate and also reflect that we have helped put wildlife cybercrime firmly on the agenda, as well as protecting the NWCU from extinction.  
 
--DC

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