Elephants machine gunned for ivory. Rhinos driven nearly to extinction. Forest rangers murdered. The illegal international trade in endangered species has integrated with organized crime and militant groups worldwide, warns a wildlife report out Monday.
Despite long-standing worldwide concern over endangered species, the "Criminal Nature" report released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) details how wildlife crime has grown into the fourth-largest branch of illegal international trade in the past half-decade. Now worth $19 billion annually, the black market in animals and their parts, notably ivory and furs, threatens to eradicate many of the most iconic of wild species, such as rhinos, elephants and tigers.
"Within the last few years, poaching has grown tremendously from one-off killings to wholesale massacres using automatic weapons," says IFAW's Beth Allgood.
About 1,000 forest rangers worldwide have been killed in the past decade, she notes, often at the hands of militants involved in insurgencies. "We can't just see this as an environmental problem anymore, when it has grown into a criminal and security one."
The report comes as international observers have become more concerned about links between the illegal animal trade and terror groups in Africa and Asia. Last November, then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared illegal wildlife trade a security threat. In May, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon released a report linking the Lord's Resistance Army militant group to the illegal ivory trade and slaughter of elephants in Central Africa. Rebel groups killed 450 elephants in 2012 at a national park in Cameroon, for example, and more elephant massacres have happened there this year and in Chad and the Central African Republic. Worldwide demand for illegal ivory has driven the price of rhino tusk, used in folk medicines, to values exceeding gold and platinum. More....