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Governments Reluctant to Tackle Wildlife Trafficking, Says WWF

By Madeleine Almberg
Epoch Times Staff
Created: January 24, 2013 Last Updated: January 24, 2013
Related articles: World » International
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An employee of Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau in the Philippines displays part of the 13.1 tons of Tanzanian elephant tusks seized from smugglers in 2005 and 2009, in Manila on Sept. 26, 2012. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/GettyImages)

An employee of Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau in the Philippines displays part of the 13.1 tons of Tanzanian elephant tusks seized from smugglers in 2005 and 2009, in Manila on Sept. 26, 2012. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/GettyImages)

While many governments around the world agree that wildlife trafficking is a serious problem, issues of jurisdiction often prevent action on the matter.

Source and consumer countries pass the blame back and forth, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The issue is also relegated to the realm of environmental organizations, and thus not seriously tackled by national or international law enforcement, says WWF spokeswoman Natalia Reiter.

“Wildlife trafficking is not seen as a serious crime,” Reiter said. “It is almost always seen by governments as exclusively an environmental problem and is not treated as a transnational crime and justice issue.”

A sign and symptom of government reluctance to take a serious legal stance on wildlife trafficking is the lack of participation consultant company Dalberg saw while working for WWF to form its December 2012 report, “Fighting Illicit Wildlife Trafficking: A Consultation With Governments.

Most government representatives either did not respond to Dalberg inquiries, or declined to participate.

Adrian Hiel, European Union communications manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says IFAW is working closely with Interpol, the international criminal police organization. The organizations are working together to hit the moving target of Internet sales operations.

“The Internet makes it easier than ever to connect buyers and sellers of rare items,” Hiel said. “Chasing these people is a constant never-ending battle as they change terms and websites.”

WWF calls for penalties under national and international laws to be similar to those for drug trafficking.

WWF calls for penalties under national and international laws to be similar to those for drug trafficking.

“The penalties associated with trafficking rhinoceros horn are not aligned to its value: poachers convicted under the North West Province law in South Africa may get away with a US$14,000 fine, while trafficking up to 5 grams of cocaine is sentenced with not less than five years in jail,” states the report, noting similar situations in demand countries.

South Africa has made hundreds of arrests, but mostly on the low level, not striking to the heart of the operations.

It is not always the law that is flawed—sometimes it’s the judges who do not recognize the seriousness of the crime, says Richard Thomas, spokesman for wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC.

Thomas does note, however, problems with legislation, citing a law in Thailand that makes importing ivory illegal, but does not regulate the domestic trade.

Many obstacles exist in combating the trade, even if governments do dedicate efforts to it. Hiel points out that it can be difficult for officials to know exactly what to look for without having the proper training. A shahtoosh shawl can look very similar to a plain wool shawl and ivory can be painted to look like wood.

Criminal organizations are also working with increasing speed. Twenty years ago, it took three to four months from the time a rhino was shot until its horn reached the market. Today, it usually takes no more than 30 hours.

“Europe needs to do much more,” Hiel said. “It spends more on aid than anyone else, but the aid needs to start to look at how people can be helped while also protecting our biodiversity. Otherwise, we all will be in great deal of trouble in the years to come.”

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