an insight into the illegal wildlife trade
Worth USD $10-20 billion per year, the international wildlife trade is the 4th largest form of trade in the world, behind only drugs, counterfeits and arms. While these trades are manufactured, we only have a limited supply of wildlife before it is gone forever!
The transnational criminal syndicates behind the wildlife trade are highly sophisticated and organized. Rhino horn, tiger bone, elephant ivory and pangolin are very profitable and highly sought after in China and Vietnam. The huge profits made through illegal shipments are enabled bribery and corruption, stimulating the trade in illegal wildlife species.
Tanzania is just one example. A country which has seen the decimation of its wild elephans, in just 5 years the population has fallen from 110,00 to less than 40,000.
Opportunists criminals often target the most exposed wildlife that holds the greatest value, making Tanzania border with Mozambique an especially vulnerable area. DNA testing has shown that the majority of ivory seizures of recent come from this part of Africa.
Tanzania has a big elephant population, and it is poorly protected with easily corrupted officials. After compromising locals, syndicates then kill the elephants and steal their tusks before moving ivory to a safe house for stockpiling. The stash is usually hidden underground in wealthy individuals houses with high security.
Once the shipment has grown to 1 to 3 tons, it is ready for export. The ports most known for ivory smuggling are Mombasa in Kenya, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Zanzibar in Tanzania.
In Zanzibar, for example, the port is semi autonomous and therefore has a different legal system from the mainland. It’s also hugely corrupt, with trafficking gangs from Asia that are based in Tanzania forming deep relationships with officials. The smugglers pay approximately USD $70 per kg to the handlers to make sure no questions are raised about the shipment.
Those in charge will never touch the shipment, instead watching from a safe distance as it leaves the port. If for any reason the product is stopped, top smugglers will be on the next plane back to China, making their apprehension extremely difficult.
The shipment then moves through various ports to confuse the route before ending up in China or Vietnam. It will also be transhipped to break the route, deceiving custom officials of where it originally came from. Hai Phong in Vietnam is notorious for arriving imports as is Hong Kong, once it is China it is home free and there is no danger of shipments getting ceased.
This is just one element of the supply chain that we face today, a key component if we are to stop the rate of poaching and save the last remaining Rhino’s, Elephants, Tigers and Pangolins!