The State Of Wildlife Trafficking: A 2020 Report
Wildlife crime pertains to “harvesting and trade contrary to national law” such as illegal wildlife trafficking. Illegal trafficking of wild fauna and flora is a wide-scale and pervasive phenomenon that has significant implications on the health of our environment, including human health. Given the severity of the situation, as of 2017, all CITES Parties are now required to submit data on seizures each October. This data is maintained in a database known as The World WISE Database, and contains data for almost 180,000 seizures from 149 different countries and territories. However, the quality and standardization of the data are questionable in some cases, which means that care must be taken when reporting on it. Also, while the database helps to provide significant visibility into the illegal wildlife trade, the core data does not cover all dimensions of wildlife crime. As such, data from legal trade where illegal materials were used also needs to be considered.
According to the data available, almost 6,000 species were seized from 1999-2018, from almost every country globally. Also, there was not one dominant species seized, given that no more than 5% of seizures was accounted for by a single species. Mammals were the most commonly seized (23.0%) followed by reptiles (21.3%), corals (14.6%), plants (14.3%), birds (8.5%), mollusks (7.9%), boney fish (4.7%), and other taxon (5.7%). Every seizure made has the potential to provide transparency to the end-to-end trafficking chain, including cases where the contraband was not detected. One insight drawn from this supply chain visibility was that most traffickers specialized in a single species where they are most familiar with the commodity and the buyers. Another insight was that bribes play a significant role in wildlife trafficking across many different personas (e.g., police officers, administrative government officials, park rangers, military, custom border officers, diplomats, elected officials).
While the availability of the data holds promise for solving the wildlife trafficking problem, some challenges with measuring the value of wildlife seizures were the difficulty in assessing value, and weighing the importance of the species seized. For example, not all species are valued the same, and the unit of analysis may not be standardized across all species (e.g., the unit of analysis could be the number of seizures, or the number of wildlife in a given seizure).
In addition to data and methodology challenges, logistics related challenges also exist. First, the product may be displaced to a different geographical region where there is limited law enforcement. Second, traffickers may introduce a different species where the buyer may or may not know that a substitution was made. Third, traffickers might move from physical to online trade through the use of social media platforms, and they can quickly switch from one online platform to another as needed. Finally, criminals can go from trafficking wildlife to managing captive breeding programs. This is likely the case with tigers where the supply of wild tigers is extremely low.
It is clear that the phenomenon of wildlife trafficking is pervasive and complex. Collecting and maintaining seizure data is a step in the right direction, but much more will need to be done to stop this illegal practice. Proper use of the data is necessary, and then executing against insights drawn from the data will require both tactical and strategic planning. For more information on the trade of specific species based on case studies, please review the original article.