By Yury Fedotov, John E Scanlon
Just this week, in Zimbabwe's largest game park, more than 80 elephants were killed for their ivory by poachers who poisoned a waterhole with cyanide. Across Zimbabwe's border, in South Africa, a record 688 rhinos were killed in 2013.
In 2011 alone, 25,000 wild elephants were illegally killed in Africa, primarily for their ivory. Over the past few years, poachers killed the last wild rhinos in Mozambique and Vietnam. The world's population of tigers has dwindled to around 3,000 animals in the wild. These are some of our most emblematic species, but wildlife crime is also robbing the natural heritage of peoples and states.
Wildlife crime now ranks among trafficking in drugs, arms and human beings in terms of profits. It is an economic crime often perpetrated by criminal syndicates operating in the most remote regions of our globalised world, exploiting local people and lax laws or enforcement for personal gain.
The nature of wildlife crime has also changed. Gunmen and flatbed trucks have been replaced by helicopters and potent automatic weapons. The animals in their sights have little chance in this gory pursuit for illicit profits. Behind the gun teams are sophisticated supply chains using modern technology, as well as bribes and corruption, to deliver animal parts to every corner of the earth.
Courageous, but underpaid park rangers are often outmanned, outgunned and outwitted in a deadly game of hide-and-seek with poachers. Ranger services have been retrained to spot illegal kills, but have had to call in the military to do their job.
Profits are enormous. More....