By Samuel Doo
Over the past decade, illicit wildlife trafficking has transformed from solely an environmental issue to one that also undermines the political and economic security of countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. Wildlife trafficking is believed to be the third most profitable illicit trade in the world, after drugs and weapons. Emerging market countries in Southeast Asia and Africa are projected to experience drastic economic growth and political changes in the coming years. Consequently, corruption involving wildlife trafficking will hinder the formation of legitimate and transparent political institutions. African governments already suffering from a lack of political legitimacy and wildlife trafficking will experience further political corruption, economic inefficiency, as well as the growth of criminal elements in society. It is essential that policymakers reevaluate the institutions and laws that are geared towards addressing wildlife trafficking.
Poaching in African countries has nearly quadrupled in the past decade. According to findings provided by Vietnamese police, rhino horns can fetch up to $65,000 per kilogram on the black market, which is higher than the price of gold. Recently, a shipping container bound for China was found to contain a 6-ton cache of elephant ivory, a collection estimated to be worth $12 million. Likewise, the demand for exotic animals, pelts taken from wild cats, and snakeskins continues to rise among producers of luxury goods and private collectors. Trade between African and Southeast Asian countries has increased and will continue to do so as the middle-class expands and disposable incomes rise along with it. While wildlife trafficking started as small operations involving a few individual poachers, it has evolved into a highly sophisticated enterprise involving organized crime syndicates and complicit government officials.
There are considerable institutional impediments to prosecuting offenders. Unlike drug and human trafficking activities, the penalties for trafficking wildlife are negligible. Monetary fines are insignificant compared to the lucrative payoffs offered on the black market. Anti-poaching initiatives are ineffective because customs officers can accept bribes without a fear of exposure. Prison sentences are rare, and the few traffickers who receive them often bribe officials to avoid incarceration. More....