By Jason Straziuso
The illegal cutting of timber and the poaching of elephants and rhinos are part of a "rapidly escalating environmental crime wave" that international governments must combat by increasing cooperation, police and environmental officials said Wednesday.
Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Program are working together to stop environmental crimes that cost tens of billions of dollars a year, said Achim Steiner, the U.N. Environmental Program's Executive Director. Some 500 law enforcement and environmental experts from around the world are meeting in Nairobi this week to try to stem the problem.
"This is a global phenomenon. This is a global market place. These are global syndicates, criminals that are engaging in this trade," said Steiner, who labeled the problem "a rapidly escalating environmental crime wave."
The demand for elephant ivory by China's rising middle class is fueling the deaths of thousands of elephants across Africa, say wildlife experts. An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa in 2011, according to UNEP.
Customs officials in China this week reported busting two smuggling rings responsible for trafficking nearly $100 million worth of elephant ivory from Africa to China, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said Wednesday. The group also said Tanzanian authorities announced this week they had sized 706 tusks from the house of three Chinese traders in Tanzania's capital.
Azzedine Downes, president of IFAW, called on national leaders to commit to developing security task forces to lower environmental crime.
"People from around the world are outraged that organized criminal networks are robbing the world of our elephants, rhinos, tigers and other wildlife, purely for the profit of a very few outlaws," Downes said. More....