17 December 2012

Africa: Illegal Wildlife Trade 'Threatening National Security', Says WWF

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
African elephant

Profits from the wildlife trade may have been used to fund terrorist cells in unstable African countries, thereby threatening national security. This disclosure was made by the world biggest conservation group, World Wildlife Fund, WWF last week.

The international conservation body according to a report by the Guardian of UK also claimed that the industry is closely linked to the drugs and arms trades. Illicit trade in wildlife has exploded into a $19bn criminal enterprise, threatening government stability and national security, the WWF warned on Wednesday.

Endangered species

A report from the world's biggest conservation group said the current effort to stop trafficking in ivory, rhino horn, and other endangered species was pitifully inadequate against the powerful and sophisticated crime syndicates with a global reach.

"It has been a failure. We are losing these populations in front of our eyes," Carter Roberts, the president of WWF, said in an interview. "It is being outgunned in terms of technology. It is being outgunned in terms of resources, and it is being outgunned, worst of all, in terms of organisation."

The report, compiled by the Dalberg consulting firm, was based on interviews with government officials in countries on both sides of the smuggling chain in Africa and Asia.

The conservation group plans to brief United Nations ambassadors on the crisis on Wednesday, to spur greater effort from governments to fight trafficking.

Roberts said turn-out at the event would provide a good indication of governments' willingness to take on an issue that, until recently, was relegated to the margins, seen only as a conservation issue.

But the nature of trafficking was changing, the report warned.

Within the past year alone, organised crime syndicates armed with military-issue machine guns have slaughtered hundreds of elephants at a time in places like Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida national park, the report said. WWF says the wildlife trade appears to fund terrorist cells in unstable African countries - threatening national security - and that the industry often uses the same networks and routes as other illegal trades, such as drug trafficking.

Over the past five years, meanwhile, the numbers of rhinos poached in South Africa has risen exponentially, from about 20 a year to an expected 600 this year, Roberts said. "It is shocking to see the numbers grow the way they have," he said.

Elsewhere, powdered rhino horn, a medicine that has now morphed into a status symbol in some parts of south-east Asia, sold for upwards of $100,000/kg. The average rhino horn was worth $600,000 - a price that gave the traffickers plenty of cash to pay off corrupt government officials. On Monday, Vietnam and South Africa signed an agreement to curb rhino poaching.

The explosion of the trade - and the involvement of organised crime and violent rebel groups - this year captured the attention of the Pentagon and the state department. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, last month upgraded trafficking from a conservation issue into a national security threat. Wildlife trafficking now threatened government control and national borders, she said.

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