By Derek Mead
Fueled by militant groups and controlled by organized crime, the illegal wildlife trade has grown into a $19 billion a year business worldwide. As rangers and authorities from South Africa to Vietnam struggle with underfunding, corruption, and violent opposition, the trade has expanded from a conservation concern into becoming a legitimate security threat for many countries. Is that realization what's required to invite comprehensive, international action?
There's clear evidence that militant and insurgent groups in Africa, including Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and al-Shabab, are funding their actions with ivory and rhino horn, and their aggressive tactics have decimated Africa's large mammals. Two-thirds of Africa's forest elephants have been poached in the last decade, the western black rhino was poached to extinction, and poaching of southern white rhinos has increased 5000 percent since 2007.
At the same time, rising demand for ivory and rhino horn in increasingly-affluent southeast Asian countries has made criminal groups powerful enough to be legitimately untouchable, while the corruption and bribe culture cultivated by the wildlife trade has cascaded into other damaging activities, such as the illegal logging that's robbing Laos of the value produced by its natural resources.
Let me put it in plain terms: Even if you don't give a hoot about existential threats to rapidly-disappearing animals and wild lands, wildlife trafficking has become too big, and too crime-ridden, to ignore.
The fact of the matter is that, with how politics has always worked, the wildlife trade is going to get more attention as a security concern than an environmental one. More....