By Christabel Arina

Handling the illegal wildlife trade remains an urgent global issue as it contributes to dramatic declines in the populations of many protected species, found across all continents, from grey parrots, rhinos, elephants and pangolins to rosewood and sturgeon, as well as increasing the number of endangered species. The illegal wildlife trade is a big business often a highly organized, sophisticated criminal activity that is taking place on an industrial scale.

During the recent international conference about the illegal wildlife trade held in London, representatives of governments recognized the significant detrimental economic, environmental, security and social impacts of illegal trade in wildlife. They called upon the international community to act together to support and build collective action to tackle the illegal trade organized criminals, and to close the markets for illegally traded wildlife.

“ I believe the conference will be a turning point in the fight against the illegal trade, which is rated as the fourth most profitable global crime,” said William Hague, Foreign secretary  of the United kingdom, a conference host.

Hague added that it is a global criminal industry, ranked alongside drugs, arms and human trafficking as it drives corruption, insecurity and undermines efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development, particularly in African countries.

The illegal wildlife trade  is also a great threat to national and regional security. Insecurity undermines the rule of law, hampering opportunities for economic growth. It is grievously impacting negatively on species that are already threatened with extinction while pushing other species into the endangered category.

Human life depends on the existence of a functioning planet Earth, a careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats is required to avoid not only extinctions but also  serious disturbances to the complex web of life. Overexploitation of species affects the living planet in wider ways hence causing an interruption on our mother nature.

It is essential to create emphasis on the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on the sustainable livelihoods of communities, and the importance of countries’ responsibility to uphold agreements made with indigenous and local communities since local wildlife is considered an important resource by many communities, often the poorest, in the developing world. Some rural households depend on wild animals for trees for fuel, protein and both wild animals and plants for natural cures.

Proper management of natural resources can contribute to the conservation of vital habitat and maintain the integrity of ecosystems, while engaging local communities, generating decent jobs and serving to curb the illegal wildlife trade.

Tackling illegal wildlife crime and associated anti-poaching activities have a considerable cost implication forcing governments to commit limited funding away from conservation activities. The illegal wildlife trade often seen only as an environmental issue is conducted on an industrial and transnational scale, in many cases for high profit. To tackle it full range of public and private tools, legal frameworks and responses developed to tackle other transnational organized crimes needs to be deployed.

While such responses are being deployed, they would benefit from a more systematic implementation on a wider scale. Further reducing barriers to law enforcement collaboration, both internationally and within countries, is vital to ensure a full range of tools and techniques are deployed for combatting serious and organized crime.

Serious action also needs to be increased to tackle the illicit financial flows associated with wildlife trafficking and related corruption, including the increase of use of financial investigation techniques, public and private collaboration to identify criminals and their networks. The existence of illegal trade is worrying as it undermines countries’ efforts to protect their natural resources.