The Environmental Crime Crisis
Wildlife trafficking The illegal trade in wildlife has been estimated by different sources to be worth 7–23 billion dollars annually, 17 involving a wide range of species including insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals. It concerns both live and dead specimens or products thereof. The specimens and products are used for pharmaceutical, ornamental or traditional medicinal purposes. The transnational pet trade in trop- ical fish, primates and reptiles is also a major beneficiary of illegal harvest and trades. Illegal harvest and trade further includes a range of species from iconic ones like gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, Chiru ante- lopes and bears to corals, birds, pangolins, reptiles and sturgeon for black caviar. All of these have a significant value not only on the black market, but even more to national economies if managed sustainably. Environmental crime operates per definition outside government regulation and management, and thus represents a significant economic, environmental and not least security threat that has received little attention in the past.
Annually, the international wildlife trade is estimated by CITES to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wild- life species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is impor- tant in order to safeguard these resources for the future. Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires interna- tional cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-ex- ploitation. CITES, in collaboration with the states, helps provide varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. CITES also regulates trade in more marine species following COP 16 decisions. Bushmeat hunting – the hunting of wild animals for food – is also a major threat to wildlife populations across the globe – including in protected areas.
A high number of iconic species like rhinos, tigers, great apes and elephants, to mention a few, are also victims of the illicit trade. But many other species are also being hunted inten- sively, such as guanacos in Argentina–Chile, and Saiga ante- lopes in Kazakhstan, where populations crashed following the collapse of the Soviet Union by over 95%. 18
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