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May 10th is marked as World Migratory Bird Day. This year 2017 theme is “Their Future Our Future” and it highlights the need for international cooperation to conserve migratory birds and their habitats for the benefit of mankind.

Migratory birds face an increasing number of threats while travelling huge distances. Their intercontinental flyways include key stopover sites that are essential for migratory birds to rest and refuel before continuing their journey.

Millions of birds migrate every year along global flyways between continents, for example from breeding grounds in Europe to warmer feeding grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the birds are facing the steepest declines ever experienced. Habitat loss, caused by land-reclamation and changes in global agricultural practices as well as poaching are threatening migratory birds across the world.

Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species said: “The planet is changing rapidly with shrinking bird habitats along all the global flyways. We need to take care of the ecosystems, which support all life on Earth. If we commit ourselves to sustainable development and preserve the habitats that we share with migratory birds, both wildlife and people will benefit, because their future is our future.”

Charles Kivasu of Kenya Wetlands Forum opines that “Conserving their habitats such as wetlands, swamps in Kenya which are mostly used by this birds will help protect our future as the same habitats provide products and services to us.”

Sound land use policies are required to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and landbirds are excellent indicators of land use change. Protecting landbirds and their habitats will help conserve other species of flora and fauna without hampering economic growth.

Health is another objective of human development. Vultures, invaluable species that act as sanitary police are declining at an alarming rate. Poisoning as well as trade for traditional medicine account for 90 per cent of vulture deaths in Africa. Today 75 per cent of Old World vultures are heading towards extinction.

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Frequently Asked Questions

In March 2017, Global Financial Integrity published a report, authored by Channing May, entitled “Transnational Crime and the Developing World”. The analysis and author’s summaries of a wide variety of references has mostly been used to answer below the questions most frequently asked about the Illegal Wildlife Trade.

What is meant by the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT)?

IWT refers to crimes involving live wildlife, wildlife products, or their derivatives, of both flora and fauna. While ivory and rhino horn dominate the headlines, the illegal wildlife trade is much more complex, involving a multitude of species and a variety of markets and drivers.

Why should we be concerned about the Illegal Wildlife Trade?

IWT threatens the survival of species, damages ecosystems, undermines good governance and the rule of law, threatens security, and reduces current and future revenue from economic activities such as wildlife‐based tourism and sustainable utilization.

The economic loss to a developing country can be significant. While one elephant may yield up to $21,000 in ivory, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust estimates that the same elephant would generate $1.6 million in tourism over its lifetime.

What is the value of the Illegal Wildlife Trade?

IWT estimates place the annual retail value of the illegal wildlife trade between $5 billion and $23 billion. Per kilo, the retail revenues for ivory or rhino horn can be equal to or greater than the equivalent amount of cocaine or heroin.

What are the products of the Illegal Wildlife Trade used for?

Food

Some species are hunted solely for subsistence (i.e., bushmeat), whereas others are hunted because their meat is considered a delicacy.

Bushmeat examples: elephants, primates, spotted deer, turtles

Delicacy examples: shark fins, sturgeon (caviar), pangolin, tiger bone (wine), glass eel, abalone

Traditional Medicine

This is wildlife, their parts, and products which are sought due to assumed healing properties.

Examples: rhino horn, totoaba fish bladder, bear bile, tiger bone, pangolin scales, ginseng, seahorses

Fashion and Décor

Skins, pelts, and furs that are desired for fashion items such as purses, shoes, and coats, as well as exotic woods used for furniture or art.

Examples: skins of snakes and alligators, tortoise shell, tiger pelt, rosewood, ebony

 

Status Goods

Goods that serve as status symbols, which often have long-standing cultural significance, allowing the owner to display their wealth. With the recent growth in the middle and high-income classes in Asia, there are now many more individuals seeking to conspicuously display their status than there were ten years ago.

Examples: ivory, rhino horn, and the pelts, teeth, and claws of big cats and bears

Exotics Pets

Rare species and/or unusual wild species that are not commonly kept as pets.

Examples: boa constrictor, iguana, chameleon, frog, parrot, falcon, slow loris, chimpanzee, spider, scorpion, caracal

Currency – ‘arms for wildlife’

Ivory is a favoured bush currency of armed rebel and militia groups, most notably the Séléka (Central African Republic (CAR)), Janjaweed Militia (Sudan), and the Lord’s Resistance Army (CAR, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan), all of which are actively involved in poaching.

Certain species and products can have multiple purposes -- for example, rhino horn is consumed both for its perceived medicinal properties as well as a status symbol; or they can be desired for separate uses such as pythons which are sought for either the exotic pet or the fashion trades.

Who is involved in the Illegal Wildlife Trade?

High prices and low enforcement risk have lured a legion of participants, from subsistence poachers to transnational criminal networks and armed rebel groups, eager to satisfy and profit from a growing demand.

The illegal wildlife trade relies on a sophisticated global supply chain. The planning, collection, and smuggling of large quantities of wildlife and wildlife products demonstrate a high degree of coordination that is indicative of well-funded organized crime groups. Criminal networks may finance the poaching (e.g., providing weapons or money for weapons) so as to fill orders, but typically they do not take part in the actual hunting. The active participation of these networks usually begins after the animal has been poached, when brokers and middlemen purchase and/or collect the goods, assemble caches, smuggle them to transit and exit points, and launder the money.

The international freight transport stage(s), be it by air, sea, or land, is one of the most important points in the illicit supply chain. Criminal networks often set up anonymous shell companies to consign and receive cargo. This masks the true (i.e., beneficial) ownership of the shipment allowing participants to act in secrecy and lowers the risk of detection by law enforcement. In regards to the actual shipments, large volume consignments of wildlife products are typically hidden among cover materials, often common bulk goods, such as cashews, soya, and timber. There have been instances where illegal wildlife products have been concealed in freight shipments of tyres that, as part of trade-based money laundering schemes, are being returned by consignees in African countries to China as “defective.”

Organised crime groups, with their established trafficking routes and sophisticated networks, have been able to coordinate large consignments of wildlife and wildlife products. The illegal wildlife trade often flows through the same corridors used for other types of trafficking, such as drugs, arms, and humans. Criminal organisations that control trafficking routes tax other smugglers for use of these routes; wildlife traffickers pay a fee and are able to use an established route, lowering the risk of detection and seizure, while drug traffickers gain extra income.

Is the Illegal Wildlife Trade being taken seriously?

The seriousness of wildlife trafficking was widely overlooked by most governments until the various armed groups and criminal organisations became increasingly involved in the trade. What was traditionally seen as a conservation issue has been transformed into a matter of national and international security.

In May 2016, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted Resolution 2/14 on illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products promoting stronger national, regional, and international cooperation in combatting poaching, trafficking, and demand for illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is currently providing over $130million to support the Global Wildlife Program (GWP), which involves investments in 19 range, transit, and destination countries in Africa and Asia to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

Compiled by Felix Patton

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A new WWF report calls for additional and immediate measures to halt the worrying trend in illegal trafficking for international trade of CITES-listed species in the world’s most ecologically important places, including World Heritage Sites. Known for their iconic beauty, geology, ecology and biodiversity, natural World Heritage sites across the globe support large populations of rare plant and animal species, including almost a third of the world’s remaining 3,890 wild tigers and 40 per cent of all African elephants, and function as the last refuge for critically endangered species such as Javan rhinos in Indonesia and vaquitas, the world’s smallest porpoise, endemic to Mexico’s Gulf of California. Yet despite their recognised value and protected status, the report released on 18 April found that illegal poaching, logging and fishing occur in nearly 30 per cent of natural and mixed World Heritage sites, driving endangered species to the brink of extinction and putting the livelihoods and wellbeing of communities who depend on them at risk. “Natural World Heritage sites are among the most recognised natural sites for their universal value. Yet many are threatened by destructive industrial activities and our new report shows that their often unique animals and plants are also affected by overexploitation and trafficking. Unless they are protected effectively, we will lose them forever. Governments must redouble their efforts and address the entire wildlife trafficking value chain, before it’s too late.” says Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International.

“We urgently need more collaboration and integration between CITES, the World Heritage Convention and national authorities to lead a more coordinated, comprehensive response to halt wildlife trafficking - from harvesting of species in source countries, transportation through processing destinations, to sales in consumer markets.” Illegal harvesting of species in World Heritage sites degrades vital social and economic benefits. More than 90 per cent of natural World Heritage sites support recreation and tourism as well as provide jobs. Many of these benefits are dependent on the presence of CITES-listed species. Illegal harvesting also alters the natural ecosystem. Around five per cent of the Sumatran tiger population was killed in 2016 alone and if current levels of poaching and trade continue, tigers could disappear from the wild on Sumatra and lead to a reduced incentive to protect forests and result in further wide-scale deforestation for palm oil plantations. “This report provides a range of options to further enhance coordination between CITES and the World Heritage Convention, focused around World Heritage sites” says John Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. “It is essential that CITES is fully implemented and that these irreplaceable sites are fully protected. In doing so, we will benefit our heritage and our wildlife, provide security to people and places, and support national economies and the rural communities that depend on these sites for their livelihoods.”

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