20th century wildlife enforcement, 21st century wildlife crime

*The original article can be found in the article entitled ‘Minimizing Wildlife Crime and Maximizing Convictions in India with Special Reference to Illegal Tiger Trade’ by. M.K.S Pasha.

Some were quite ‘lucky’ to die instantaneously while others were left on the ground, waking up in agony waiting for a few hours before death takes place due to blood loss. For this particular image of a black rhino on my Facebook timeline, it lays there with half of its head submerged into a river with its horn missing. As usual profanity is expected in the comment section among animal lovers, expressing their anger hoping that justice will be served. Does it though? The majority of poachers tend to successfully evade law enforcement or getting a slap on the wrist which gives them a good reason to not stop what they do best.

The cost of wildlife illegal trade is expensive as various combinations of visible trends have changed the modus operandi of the trade. Demand has gone expansive as wildlife goods are traded on a worldwide scale especially in East and South-East Asian countries. Highly skilled poachers are equipped with sophisticated weapons and telecommunications tools. A poacher with a AK-47 in South Africa could hunt down a rhino, hack its horn, and it will be on its way to a buyer who is 10, 847 km away in Asia within a a week or two. Simple.

While wildlife enforcement is essential to combat wildlife crime, members of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation for Regional Cooperation) such as India and Nepal are suffering from the lack of it, albeit being home to various great species. The issue has its history of how wildlife crime is perceived in the eyes of the law. For example, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in India sees offences to such crime as minor offences. Wildlife crime has illustrates its dynamics to operate within a global scale according to the animosity it caused in various parts of the world, still the law is yet to catch up to its pace.

Numerous reports concluded that wildlife crime is positioned within the top five activities in illicit economies along with other activities such as drugs and arm trafficking. Global Financial Integrity 2011 for example ranked wildlife black markets as the most lucrative in the world. Experts believed that animals that are poached to the brink of extinction will only increase their value as their demand rises creating significant financial incentives.

Criminal networks involved in wildlife trading seems to be operating dynamically. Countries that are a source of wildlife articles are dictating the dynamics of wildlife crime. Poachers in such countries do not only enjoy impunity due to weak law enforcements, but also are sophisticatedly connected with other criminal networks on a transnational level. Casual hunter with less skills are replaced with professionalized hunters or casual hunters trained to become professionalized hunters as protected species are growing scarcer. Some even resort to cooperating with local marginalised communities to assist in hunting wildlife.

Wildlife illegal trade demands are rising. Criminals involved in the illicit network are progressing. The law remains the same.

At this stage it is essential to establish a law enforcement plan between national and international regimes that are compliance with CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to not only protect endangered species, but also avoid confusion when implementing the law within source, transit and destination countries.

According to CA|TS (Conservation Assured Tiger Standards) manager Khalid Pasha, a man who is no stranger to tiger conservation suggests a combination of approaches are needed to assist in curbing illegal wildlife trade. He believes that his effort in battling the existing illegal tiger trade via law enforcement and engaging with the government to realise the required changes and adaptations needed to secure the tiger population, may also be adopted in combating wildlife trade in general.

Khalid acknowledges that fragile law enforcement agency is key to weak enforcement. The lenient view taken by the judiciary on wildlife crime due to the appearance of criminals do not reflect how lucrative the business is. Wildlife crime cases are filed as a complaint matter rather than chargesheet. Poor rate of conviction or even apprehended, some well connected offenders got away due to corruption. Rangers on the other hand are ill equipped and at times face threats in politically unstable areas to perform their tasks.

In effort to move forward towards tackling illegal wildlife trade, Khalid seeks and suggests thorough improvements among rangers and law enforcement bodies, communities and, technology. Apart from acquiring a strong and well equipped rangers, it is essential for both rangers and enforcement agencies to collaborate in monitoring wildlife crimes. Marginalised communities too are invited to be authorised to respond against illicit activities occurring within their area. Lastly is adaptation of various methods that complement the effort of combatting illegal wildlife trade such as the use of Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) for rangers, Deep Search Metal Detector (DSMD) and wildlife sniffer dogs.

At this current state, rhino, tiger, elephant come and go. And poachers keep coming for more. If wildlife crime is not treated as a serious issue now, there will never be another time in the future. This is a perfect example that encapsulates how important it is to unite against one of the biggest crimes that is putting a price tag on nature’s priceless gems. It is now or never.

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