A global crime costing us billions

Our cruelty to animals is not just inhumane, but the environmental damage it causes also has a massive economic fallout.

JUST last week, photos of our national animal were published online. But it wasn’t a picture of a healthy tiger roaming our jungles. Rather, it was skin and bones laid out on a table.

Animals were snatched from their home, heartlessly slain and ripped apart for commercial value.

Tiger parts, bear claws, hornbill beaks, elephant tusks, pangolin scales and animal bile were among the contraband seized recently by the Wildlife and National Parks Department.

And it’s nothing new. In fact it feels like a tale as old as time.

Two gangs were arrested during the operation and millions of ringgit worth of wildlife parts seized in what was the biggest bust by the department so far this year.

Unfortunately, there are many criminals out there who are making big money from trading protected animals, dead or alive.

Global environmental crime is worth billions of dollars. This is money lost that could have been used for development, infrastructure or for improving the well-being of society.

Instead, the money is landing in the pockets of criminals.

The worrying fact is that the value of environmental crime is growing. The value of global environmental crime today is 26% larger than the estimate calculated two years ago.

According to a 2016 report published by the United Nations Environment Programme and Interpol titled The Rise of Environ­mental Crime, it is estimated that global environmental crime is worth US$91bil–US$258bil (RM368.7bil–RM1tril) today compared to US$70bil–US$213bil (RM283.6bil – RM863bil) in 2014.

The report finds that weak laws and poorly funded security forces are enabling international criminal networks to profit from the trade.

Furthermore, the illegal trade fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening species with extinction.

Just to put the sheer scale of environmental crime into perspective, environmental crime is 30 times larger than the illegal trade in small arms that is valued at US$3bil (RM12.16bil).

Environmental crime is the world’s fourth-largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Plus, the money lost due to environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combating it – which is just US$20mil–US$30mil (RM81mil– RM121mil).

I found these numbers shocking. At a time when global awareness on environmental crime is at an all-time high, with celebrities like David Beckham and Jackie Chan publicly taking a stand against the illegal wildlife trade, it is upsetting that their advocacy is not reflected in what’s happening on the ground.

I spoke to Traffic South-East Asia director Dr Chris R. Shepherd about his thoughts on the matter.

“We are not acting fast enough to counter the rise in the trade and growing demand,” he says.

“Countries are also not putting enough resources into fighting global environmental crime.

“It has to be a priority for governments and enforcement agencies. It also has to be a priority for conservation societies,” says Dr Shepherd.

But he adds that several South-East Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand still do not have legislation that protects species from exploitation.

“Indonesia and Thailand have gaping loopholes in their laws that do not protect non-native species,” he says.

“Traders are openly selling animals in markets and getting away with it because there is nothing enforcement can do.”

It is sad that despite all the raids and measures governments have taken to stop the illegal trade, we seem to be losing the war.

“It is worse than it has ever been. More species are threatened by illegal trade than ever before, especially here in South-East Asia,” says Dr Shepherd.

More and more species are on the brink of extinction, and most of the world has likely never heard of these animals.

“A lot of species of snakes, geckos, lizards and songbirds are not adequately protected by Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” says Dr Shepherd.

“People aren’t aware, people don’t care. Nobody is championing these species,” he says.

“Globally, we are losing the battle. There are small victories happening, but we still have a long way to go,” he adds.

It is sad that some species are at risk of being wiped out by traders hoping to make big and quick money.

What we need is hefty fines, high prison sentences, seizure of assets, and revocation of their business licence to deter criminals from committing environmental crimes.

We must act now before we lose any more species. Countries need to learn how to work together to solve this problem before it’s too late.

Fresh Faces Young Voices offers a new space to a new generation that’s passionate about their causes. Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness. She can be reached at victoria@thestar.com.my.

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Opinion , Victoria Brown , columnist


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