By: David Smith
The illegal trade of animals or animal parts has become one of the most lucrative black market activities in the world. Driven by the promise of high profit margins, poachers in Africa – namely militias, armed groups, and insurgent groups – have driven rhinos and elephants close to extinction, while murdering hundreds of park rangers in the process. NGOs and governments now face a race against time to reduce demand for wildlife trade, particularly in Asia, as well as to equip those on the frontline to fight a well-armed enemy.
Even going by the lowest estimates, wildlife crime is currently the 5th largest illicit transnational activity in the world, after counterfeiting and the illegal trafficking of drugs, people, and oil. The illicit sale of animals or animal parts is such big business that it attracts large criminal syndicates, as well as militia armed to the teeth. Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimates that illegal wildlife trade is worth US$8-10 billion per year, although a 2008 report for the US Congress says it could be closer to US$20 billion.
In Africa, the situation is so dire that animals such as elephants and rhinos are being driven to the brink of extinction. Besides stealing the animals’ horns and tusks, poachers have killed hundreds of rangers who tried to get in their way. A substantial portion of the illegal goods are then shipped to Asia, where demand is driven by the need for specific animal parts to practice traditional Asian medicine, for human consumption, and as symbols of wealth.
According to Dr Richard Thomas, the Global Communications Co-ordinator for Traffic, the demand for rhino horn, for instance, was mainly coming from Vietnam. More....