Seven steps conservation and national leaders can take to stop wildlife crime

The Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will crush and destroy approximately six tons of elephant ivory, seized by its special agents and wildlife inspectors for violations of U.S. wildlife laws, this November. This photo represents just a portion of the seized ivory housed at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge - National Eagle and Wildlife Property outside Denver, CO.Along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms sales, wildlife crime ranks among the most serious, dangerous, and damaging of international crimes, worth an estimated US$19 billion per year as noted in IFAW’s recent report, “Criminal Nature – The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade.”

For the uninitiated, the numbers of individual wild animals and their parts and derivatives, taken and sold illegally worldwide is shocking.

For those of us working every day to help protect these animals, it has become an urgent call to arms.

Close to 35,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in the past year—or one every 15 minutes.

In 2012, a record 668 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa alone, a 50 percent increase over 2011; and the toll continues to rise in 2013, with at least 201 rhinos killed in Kruger National Park so far.

We also know that many other species—from Saiga and Tibetan antelope to pangolins, big cats and turtles—are at great risk.

While these numbers are massive, and the threats to security and biodiversity are real, there are also the individual animals—cruelly and unnecessarily slaughtered, for human profit. Which is why the International Fund for Animal Welfare has committed to stopping this trade, working with coalitions like those forged during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York this past September.

Today, I am speaking at the INTERPOL - UNEP International Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Conference (ECEC) taking place this week in Nairobi — a critical meeting to explore common strategies for combatting the growing menace of environmental crime.

This meeting brings together political leaders, law enforcement officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) whose missions give us all an opportunity to help in the fight to stop wildlife crime.

Together we can develop practical solutions that build on structures already in place. In the short-term, the outlay may require only modest budget enhancements or reallocations, not vast sums of money that run the risk of being channeled into unintended coffers or unreasonably used. These solutions must be adaptable to local customs and societal norms and easily understood by law enforcement officials at all levels.

In our estimation, there are seven factors critical to success in this endeavor:

Increased cooperation

Transparency and cooperation between national and international law enforcement, NGOs and the private sector has been increasingly effective at dismantling and disrupting international wildlife crime syndicates. INTERPOL, for instance, has been utilizing its international reach and sharing in-country information and connections with national law enforcement to improve networks and communications processes.

Creation of specialized wildlife crime investigators

NGOs like IFAW can help build capacity, provide long-term training and equip these high-impact units. To be effective, these special detective units must be well-paid and be backed by high-level government commitment.

Increased emphasis on forensic investigation

Unfortunately, more enforcement isn’t enough as many wildlife crime cases are lost in the judiciary. An increased emphasis on efficient and accurate forensic investigation, and securing the chain of evidence leading to prosecution is critical.

Improved community policing tactics

Law enforcement officials, special units and otherwise, must be helped in their efforts to gather local intelligence against wildlife criminals networks and their support systems through canvassing communities that live with and near wildlife.

Increased sentences and stronger national legislation

When penalties are small and insignificant compared to the crime, poaching, smuggling and selling wildlife contraband may seem worth the low risk to both opportunistic and professional criminals. National laws must call for meaningful prosecutions, heavy fines, and lengthy prison terms.

Build public support through specific animal stories

Research shows that the ability of human beings to comprehend problems in huge aggregated numbers is limited. Quotes like “US$19 billion per year in wildlife sales” and “seven tons of ivory seized last month in Kenya” can be more mind-numbing than illuminating. Framing the problem in terms of what is happening to individual animals resonates and more acutely creates empathy for these animals.

End the demand for wildlife products

Political pressure can be applied effectively to stop a large part of trade. Governments, law enforcement, private businesses, NGOs – and all of us as individuals – can help apply this pressure and sense of urgency. Our research shows that the majority of people would stop buying ivory if its sale were outlawed.

By addressing these seven factors, together we can make a difference, and we can do it working in the reality of financial constraints and cutbacks.

Law enforcement is being asked to do more with less, with trust and cooperation, and with a willingness to cross cultural and political divides, we can stop the slaughter.


Read the IFAW report, Criminal Nature – The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade now.

SEE ALSO: “Environmental crime wave costs world billions." Read the Associated Press story with Azzedine Downes here.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy