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Review: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications

uctzhid24 October 2016

Last week, we were delighted to have Cathy Haenlein, Research Fellow from the RUSI National Security and Resilience Group Studies, as an OCRN guest speaker. Her talk provided an insight about how wildlife trafficking has been evolving throughout the last years and the different response approaches adopted by countries and international organisations.

Wildlife trafficking is becoming a serious issue across the world and a lucrative criminal activity. Cathy explained there is a lack of consensus and consistency within the legal definition, for instance, it is not clear what are the species included. Hence, the terminology used is imprecise and the dimensions of this activity are insufficiently understood.

Despite the gravity of the threat affecting a vast range of species, wildlife trafficking is not considered a security threat or priority for governments. Three narratives linking security threats to wildlife trafficking: terrorism, organised crime and human security.

Wildlife trafficking is part of organised crime activities as it embeds complex operations, using high-volume transportation and the participation of different actors in the supply chain. It is known that East Africa has source and transit countries for wildlife illegal activities. International organisations such as Interpol have identified kingpins and large shipments have been seized in the region.

Another aspect to point out is that this type of crime faces several challenges for doing research (how to measure it or to get data) as well as prosecution (the role of corruption). However, our expert suggested different responses that might help to develop effective strategies such as community engagement; law enforcement, demand reduction and the identification of money flows.

In the case of terrorism, there is an alleged involvement of al-Shabaab with ivory illicit trade and poaching elephants in Africa. Nevertheless, our expert made the caveat of an overstated discourse regarding the role of terrorism in wildlife trafficking as there is not sufficient evidence suggesting this nexus.

Currently, RUSI is working on a research project and training programme in Kenya and Tanzania funded by the UK Government focused on tracking the illicit funds from illegal wildlife trade. Also, they are undertaking a research programme on the security dimensions of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The views expressed in this blog post are the authors own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.