THE latest revelation by the Inspector-General of Police that VVIPs are involved in the illegal wildlife trade and poaching is indeed cause for concern. Stopping poaching requires action against these wealthy and influential bosses of often extremely well-connected organised crime gangs.
It is not just about catching and jailing poachers because there’s an endless supply of them. Going after small-time poachers or traffickers is not the solution; the focus should be on the big players in the poaching networks and corrupt government officials.
Among wildlife traffickers, these VVIPs are typically big business people who cover up their crime by exploiting their status to benefit themselves, those close to them, and their organisations.
They usually have legitimate businesses acting as a front for their illegal activities, such as trading or shipping companies or commodity-based businesses, all of which makes it easier for them to move cargo around.
These individuals, often with honorifics to their names, have powerful connections with government officials, politicians, the well-heeled, and the elite.
Criminal groups dealing in wildlife tend to include multinational players which further complicates investigations. Governments often do not share information or effectively collaborate across borders.
The spike in poaching recently, with animals slaughtered inside national parks or conservation areas, shows that poachers have little fear of tough new laws designed to end the killing. They have no respect for borders; if one nation toughens its laws, they will move to a neighbouring country. If protection is extended to one endangered wildlife population, they will target another species.
Corruption is another factor; and corruption among government officials, agencies and rangers has profound effects on the extent of poaching and wildlife trafficking. Corruption plays an important role in facilitating wildlife crimes, undermining efforts to enforce laws against such crime. Local communities, too, are often willing participants in the illegal wildlife trade.
Experts say it’s time to treat this billion-dollar illegal trade in the same way as other serious organised crimes, by adopting tools commonly used in fighting drug lords and other crime kingpins such as anti-money laundering techniques, and financial investigation. There is virtually nothing done in terms of investigation into the financial side of the wildlife trade.
Money laundering experts should be involved in tackling wildlife crime. Corruption and weak regulatory frameworks may offer several opportunities for criminal organisations to launder the proceeds of the crime.
A one-size-fits-all approach in tackling wildlife trafficking is unlikely to be effective and individual, case-dependent solutions must be developed if illegal wildlife trafficking is to be stopped and our animals saved.
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)