New Report Reveals That The Illegal Wildlife Trade Is Resurging Post-Pandemic

(New York, N.Y.) – By failing to tackle illegal wildlife trafficking, the world is missing a critical opportunity to prevent the future spread of zoonotic disease, halt a man-made mass extinction of wildlife, and starve organized criminal and extremist groups of a $23 million revenue stream according to a new report from the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), Extinction Inc. – Illegal Wildlife Trafficking After the Pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus the dangers posed by humanity’s mass consumption of unregulated, illegal wildlife products. Driven by concern to prevent the future spread of ‘zoonotic’ diseases (i.e., pathogens contracted from animals), China—the world’s largest consumer market for wildlife products—published an updated Wildlife Protection Law at the end of 2022, while both the U.N. and EU also introduced new measures to interdict the illegal wildlife trade.

But with the world economy opening up again, hopes of a new chapter in our relationship with wildlife are fading quickly. There are already unmistakable signs of resurging and rampant consumer demand.

With smugglers adapting quickly to changed conditions, rising consumer demand is driving a fresh spike in illegal wildlife trafficking:

  • A joint operation by European law enforcement entities running from November 2021 to June 2022 resulted in the seizure of 1,255 kilograms of glass eels (i.e., juvenile European eels) and the arrest of 49 individuals. The illegal eel trade is believed to be worth 3 billion euros in peak years.
  • A month-long Interpol operation in October 2022 resulted in 2,200 separate seizures and the identification of 934 suspects and 141 companies involved in illegal wildlife trafficking.
  • Six tonnes of ivory were discovered by Malaysian authorities in a shipping container on July 10, 2022, while 600 kilograms were seized in Vietnamese ports over a single weekend in February 2023.

The illegal trade in wildlife products has grown to become the third most profitable criminal endeavor globally, only superseded by drugs and arms trafficking, according to Interpol. Some of the most vicious insurgencies of recent memory, including Boko Haram (a.k.a. ISWAP), al-Shabaab, ISIS, and the Zomi Revolutionary Army, have been part financed by illegal wildlife trafficking. Asian crime syndicates and rogue regimes like the Taliban and the Myanmar junta also reap huge profits from the trade.

With wildlife species now vanishing at a rate estimated at 1,000 times the historical average, the world is facing down the barrel of the first ever man-made mass extinction event. As this report makes clear, illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a primary driver of this crisis.

Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, chief executive officer of CEP, said:

“The report clearly outlines how pivotal it is for the world to immediately get to grips with the rampant wildlife trafficking trade. Wildlife trafficking is a financial resource for conflict parties, including terrorist networks. Governments, as well as multilateral organisations, such as the European Union and African Union should look to strengthen existing and, where appropriate, establish new targeted sanction regimes that focus both on individuals and entities involved in this illegal activity.”

Author of the report, CEP Senior Advisor and former Ambassador Sir Ivor Roberts, said:

“In the battle to save our planet’s wildlife and safeguard humanity from the many harms caused by illegal wildlife trading, the traffickers are winning and there is very little time left to turn the tide. Yet, there is still hope. The Anthropocene extinction is man-made. This means that it is also within our power to avert the catastrophe towards which our planet is presently hurtling. We are calling on governments across the globe to begin actively tackling the illegal wildlife trade as part of the counter-terror strategy. Only by recognizing that IWT is a core element of these extremist groups, will we be able to get to the root of the issue and reverse its causes.”

Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director at CEP and author of the report’s recommendations, said:

“The time for discussion around the illegal wildlife trade has come and gone. We need tangible and technical solutions to protect our remaining wildlife and a real political will to stand against the traffickers. First, we must protect the guardians who are guarding endangered animals, take on the traffickers and cut off the traffic in transit. By halting the supply chain, we can weaken the resources of these extremist traffickers and take the fight to the international stage.”

To read the full report, please click here.

Interviews are available upon request.

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