UN report shows wildlife trafficking still rampant

A Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger stands guard in front of illegal stockpiles of burning elephant tusks at the Nairobi National Park on April 30, 2016. [AFP]

Illegal trafficking of plants and wildlife is still prevalent, a United Nations report shows.

According to the World Wildlife Crime Report, despite efforts to curb wildlife trafficking over the past 20 years, more than 4,000 species are still affected, the majority endangered.

The report which was released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on May 13, shows that in 2020 and 2021 there was a surge in utilisation of wildlife products as there was a reduction in poaching animals due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 restrictions temporarily reduced smuggling activities and led to the closure of wildlife markets.

"Because of the stronger enforcement, sellers reported not being able to trade wild animals and their derivatives openly during and immediately after the pandemic," said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. 

“Fear of wildlife/animals as a source of disease transmission also contributed to this decrease," Waly added.

The report further states that local communities increasingly turned to wildlife products to sustain their livelihoods as the availability of imported goods diminished during the pandemic.

"While the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped some aspects of wildlife trafficking, the underlying challenges remain. Trafficking and illicit trade of protected wildlife species continue to pose a significant threat to biodiversity worldwide," the report states.

The pandemic also influenced trafficking patterns, with a notable reduction in wildlife seizures associated with air transport due to decreased passenger numbers.

Conversely, seizures from shipments increased, potentially influenced by the rapid growth of courier shipping and e-commerce sectors.

Despite these fluctuations, the report underscores the persistent challenges in combating the global wildlife trafficking crisis.

It emphasizes the need for sustained enforcement efforts, robust legislative measures, including anti-corruption laws, and enhanced monitoring and research initiatives to effectively address the multifaceted issue.

However, the report warns that iconic species such as elephants and rhinos remain at risk of extinction due to unrelenting wildlife crimes.

"Thousands of threatened species are affected by wildlife trafficking, a small minority of which, such as elephants, tigers and rhinoceroses, attract the majority of policy attention," the report states.

According to the report, rhinoceros were the most affected (29 per cent), followed by pangolins (28 per cent), elephants (15 per cent), Eels (5 per cent), crocodilians (5 per cent), parrots and cockatoos (2 per cent), turtles and tortoises (2 per cent), snakes (2 per cent), seahorses (2 per cent), and others (8 per cent).

Among the plants, cedars and other Spindale were affected the most at 47 per cent, rosewood (35 per cent), agar wood and other Myrtales (13 per cent), golden chicken fern and other Cibotium species (1 per cent), orchids (1 per cent) and others (3 per cent).

It analyses over 140,000 wildlife seizures between 2015 and 2021 across more than 160 countries and territories.

The National Wildlife Census 2021 showed that Kenya had 36,280 elephants, black rhino (897), white rhino (842), northern rhino (2), lions (2,589), hyenas (5,189), cheetahs (1,160), wild dogs (865), and buffalo (41,659).

The report warns that wildlife traffickers are adaptable, adjusting their methods and routes in response to regulatory changes and exploiting differences between legal regimes, enforcement gaps, and new market trends.

The UNODC calls for evidence-based interventions to drive measurable progress, stressing the importance of informed strategies to mitigate the impacts of trafficking on biodiversity, public health, and socioeconomic stability.

It advocates for stronger international cooperation and a unified approach across the entire trade chain to confront the adaptable nature of wildlife traffickers.

“Greater consideration should be given to prosecution of those organising or enabling wildlife trafficking under laws directly addressing corruption, which may provide stronger investigative powers and potential for higher penalties than applicable under environmental legislation,” the report states.