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Governments are not doing enough to stop wildlife crime

Written by: Andreas Wilson-Späth

A scathing new report shows that key countries affected by wildlife crime have failed to halt poaching and illegal trafficking of endangered animals as a result of widespread corruption and inadequate law enforcement, thus putting increasing numbers of species at risk of extinction.

baby elephant

©Conservation Action Trust

Many promises, too little action

Wildlife crime – a multi-billion dollar a year business run by large international syndicates – remains a high-profit, low-risk venture, largely because of inaction on the part of governments who have publicly committed themselves to end the crisis but have failed to turn their obligations into effective action. That’s the key finding of a newly released report by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

The report investigates the extent to which 15 countries at the centre of the global wildlife crime pandemic have implemented the provisions of the 2014 London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade to which they are signatories.

Poached elephant

©Conservation Action Trust

While the governments, including that of South Africa, have put in place much of the legal and administrative infrastructure, including laws and special investigative, prosecuting and enforcement units, and while they have established intergovernmental bodies, treaties and mechanisms, much of this machinery is not being employed efficiently to stem the tide. As a result, “many commitments made on paper have not been translated into action”.

Legislation may provide for very punitive sentences for wildlife crimes, but the full force of the law is only rarely brought to bear and the imposed penalties are frequently not severe enough to deter other poachers and traffickers. In very few instances is the full suite of laws available to prosecute these crimes, including money laundering and freezing of assets, employed to bring about the strongest possible sentences.

elephant rescue

©Conservation Action Trust

The report demonstrates that widespread government corruption is one of the biggest problems. With the exception of Botswana, the USA and the UK, all of the countries investigated scored below 50 on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index which ranks governments on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). What’s more, “although all 15 countries have legislation that criminalises corruption and have anti-corruption units or mechanisms, there are very few cases reported publicly in which corrupt officials associated with wildlife crime have been prosecuted”.

The findings indicate that the countries have not done enough to raise awareness of wildlife crime or to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products. By not destroying seized stockpiles of poached and trafficked wildlife parts and products and by maintaining legal domestic markets, many actually promote continued demand and provide opportunities for the laundering of these goods.

elephant fam

©Conservation Action Trust

SA: Some progress, but…

With regards to South Africa’s efforts to eradicate wildlife crime, the report acknowledges progress in several areas, noting, for instance that hundreds of magistrates, prosecutors and border officials have received training in wildlife issues and that there has been an increase in the number of arrests, convictions and stronger sentences.

Many problems remain, however. “Provincial and federal wildlife enforcement agencies are under-funded”, especially those in the important provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, while the functioning of the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit “has been hindered due to lack of resources and co-operation from provincial authorities and police”. The Environmental Management Inspectorate remains without a prosecutorial mandate and substantial differences between provincial wildlife laws create “numerous loopholes which undermine effective law enforcement”.

rhinos

©Conservation Action Trust

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the country ranks low on the corruption index (44) indicating that bribery and fraud among officials is a major problem. This is exacerbated by the fact that “there is no effective anti-corruption strategy within the police and the DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) is also lacking a specific anti-corruption programme.”

The report highlights another issue that gets little attention in the media: South African laws provide scant protection for non-native species, including tigers.  This is particularly worrying as “a minimum of 280 captive tigers are held in 44 facilities” and there is a “growing trade in tigers and their parts and products from South Africa.” Between 2006 and 2015, “212 live tigers, 25 tiger ‘trophies’ and 20 tiger skins” were exported from South Africa, raising concern over the possibility that tiger bones are being laundered into the legal market as lion bones.

family

©Conservation Action Trust

It’s time for action

The report identifies a number of priority actions which the countries need to take urgently by issuing the necessary “directives assigning political and financial resources to combat wildlife crime.” Key actions include:

– Addressing legal loopholes and strengthening law enforcement, as well as the investigation and prosecution of wildlife crime, by providing sufficient resources and funding.

– Making sure that wildlife crime is prosecuted using laws which carry the highest possible sentences.

– Investigating and prosecuting government officials linked to corrupt practices.

– Closing domestic markets for threatened species and destroying stockpiled wildlife products.

– Researching and implementing “professional, targeted demand reduction campaigns.”

 

Conservation Action Trust

The Conservation Action Trust works for the protection of threatened species by promoting the objective investigation and reporting of important conservation and environmental issues affecting these species. We hope to foster broader awareness and bring about greater public support of vital conservation and environmental issues.

  • OLD SCHOOL

    Corruption is widespread in almost all of the government departments of South Africa and is becoming part of a new culture where everything has it’s price. Without a change of government we will continue to fight an almost futile battle against crime. Wildlife and the environment are at the bottom of the SA government’s list of priorities, but we keep faith and believe it will change. Meanwhile our rangers, who are the ‘ boots ‘ on the ground need all the support that it can get from the public.

  • Whattheh***

    There is a problem at the top in all the countries governments! Paying lip service to anti poaching and even throwing money at the problem, putting in anti poaching laws etc., but there must be officials involved from the executive positions in government, of all the countries experiencing poaching of any sort, as the problems worldwide are not leveling out or getting less, but escalating instead! NO amount of documentaries showing horrors of the poaching, illegal animal trafficking, torture of animals, etc., is having any long term affect or so it seems. People have been made aware of anacondas being strung up in China and force fed water to expand their girth so more products can be got from their skins. Himalayan “dancing bears” and how they are taught etc. The list is endless of human exploitation of animals for commercial gain. BUT it doesn’t stop them buying the snake skin suitcases, bags or animals for private zoos, hunting etc.!! I am keeping the faith as OLD SCHOOL urges us all to do, but somedays it is really difficult…………

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