Illegal wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world, worth between $7 and $23 billion annually. Despite its significant financial ramifications, this type of crime often gets overlooked when it comes to financial crimes such as arms dealing, drugs, and human trafficking.
The effects of poaching, abuse, captivity, and illegal wildlife trade on the animal kingdom are hard to ignore. This is especially true in Asia, where many species are threatened due to the historically high demand for exotic animals around the globe.
The global wildlife trade is a major international issue, and in Asia - where many endangered species reside - it has become an increasingly pressing concern.
New strategies and technologies are needed to combat it effectively, from poaching and abuse to illegal wildlife trading. Today some organizations are even using drones and other advanced technologies to track and monitor wildlife, while others are working to raise public awareness about the importance of conservation.
For these populations to remain healthy and viable, conservationists worldwide must focus their efforts on preventing these activities from taking place.
INTERPOL is a global law enforcement organization confronting illegal wildlife trade and related crimes. The group uses its global network of police officers, intelligence analysts, and crime specialists to track down criminals involved in transporting and selling endangered species, disrupt their operations, and provide training and expertise to local law enforcement.
INTERPOL also offers various operational support services to help protect wildlife and educational programs to raise awareness about the issue.
Asia is home to several species that are highly sought after by traders solely for their fur or body parts; therefore, preventing such abuse relies greatly on the regulation of the animal markets as well as public education campaigns aimed at raising awareness about the effect specific animal products have on the environment and how buying them means supporting practices that are cruel and unsustainable.
One notable example is Thailand, where increased surveillance over live animal markets has shown to decrease animal incidents, even though there's still a long way to go.
TikTok's Rise in Animal Abuse
Japan recently passed a law that bans certain forms of pet ownership, including owning monkeys or other primates – thus helping keep those species safe from potential exploitation.
Vile videos on TikTok using horrific clips seem to be normalizing animal abuse. Asia for Animals Coalition found more than 5,480 links to animal cruelty content across TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook between July 2020 and August 2021. Many of these depict or promote the illegal wildlife trade and exploitation of animals.
Illegal Wildlife Trade
Illegal wildlife trade remains one of the most prolific environmental crimes worldwide, with much of the illicit activity occurring in rural areas or in cities near national boundaries where poverty drives some into criminal activities.
An excellent example of how governments fight illegal wildlife trade is SAMLIT, the South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force formed in 2021. In South Africa, during January and December of 2019, 332 people were arrested, with more than 57 significant investigations for rhino horn trafficking and rhino poaching.
Between January and June of 2021, SAMLIT adds that " the Kruger National Park alone experienced 715 poacher incursions, resulting in the poaching of 132 rhinos and one elephant, and leading to the arrest of 40 alleged poachers."
To tackle this problem, governments must enact stricter laws that penalize offenders with heavier fines while better-educating people about preserving nature's biodiversity.
Furthermore, more stringent border control combined with increased customs inspections should help reduce instances of illegal wildlife trafficking, especially given today's technology allows customs officers worldwide unprecedented information-sharing capabilities.
Finally, all regional nations should cooperate and pool resources to establish regional anti-smuggling teams that are explicitly tasked with handling illegal wildlife cases.
For instance, India has recently been increasing its anti-poaching efforts by creating new task forces such as 'Operation Thunderbird,' which aims to crack down on poachers looking to capture exotic birds like peacocks and parrots. Operation Thunderbird was the code name for INTERPOL's multi-national and multi-species enforcement operation in 2017.
Another example is The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB)also brought about a unanimous approach by the state enforcement agencies in the fight against wildlife crime in the country. Also, in 2021 INTERPOLS's WCO intercepted thousands of cars, trucks, and cargo ships suspected of transporting protected wildlife and timber.
Educational initiatives have been created to raise understanding among citizens about the importance of animal welfare and how they can contribute towards this cause.
Some countries have gone a step further by adopting specific policies that work towards protecting endangered species in their respective countries. .
Laws such as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) bring together governments worldwide to regulate international wildlife trade by ensuring all transactions involving endangered species meet specific standards set forth by participating nations.
CITES also helps protect wild fauna against overexploitation through international trading channels which would otherwise go undocumented or unregulated.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act (BCPSA) is a bill that was introduced in the United States Congress to regulate the ownership of big cats like lions, tigers, and leopards. The BCPSA prohibits private ownership of big cats except by accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and it would prohibit individuals from breeding or possessing big cats for the purpose of using them for commercial purposes such as petting zoos or photo ops.
The BCPSA was introduced in response to several incidents of big cat attacks on humans and concerns over the welfare of big cats that are kept in captivity. The bill was first introduced in 2017 and was signed into law on December 22, 2023 by President Joe Biden.
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