There's a $19 billion industry out there that's endangering global security and the environment. And yet, until a high-level summit this past week in London, you probably haven't considered it a pressing policy issue: poaching.
Lucky for the millions of animals killed or maimed each year, world leaders finally recognized the slew of consequences the illegal wildlife trade has. How does it compare to other illegal businesses — like the sale of blood diamonds, trafficking of small arms, gold or petroleum? Astonishingly, it's more than all of their revenue combined. Terrorist organizations have taken note, profiteering off the extremely high revenue of the poaching trade.
At the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, 46 countries agreed on a declaration to tackle the business. More immediately, Botswana, Gabon, Chad and Tanzania announced at the symposium that they will enact a 10-year moratorium on the ivory market. While these leaders could have technically asked for permission to sell their massive ivory stockpiles, they decided not to.
How powerful is poaching? An undercover investigation in Kenya found that illegal ivory funds account for as much as much as 40% of the operations of al-Shabaab, the terrorist organization behind the egregious 2013 Nairobi shopping mall attack. The Lord's Resistance Army and Al-Qaeda are also known to profit off of the wildlife trade. In fact, President Obama issued an executive order last year calling for increased cooperation with world leaders to stop poaching.
"This is now a global criminal industry, ranked alongside drugs, arms and people trafficking. It drives corruption and insecurity, and undermines efforts to cut poverty and promote sustainable development, particularly in African countries," said William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary.
Like so many other conversations, drones have made their way into this one. Security analysts have discovered that monitoring endangered species with surveillance drones could stop poachers. Smart tags attached to at-risk animals would enable the drone to follow them. If a danger is detected, local law enforcements will be alerted.
While the links to security are gaining international attention, its environmental and animal rights should cannot be pushed aside. A recent study revealed that 62% of the world's forest elephants had become victims of poaching between 2002 and 2011. That's the extermination of more than half of a species in less than a decade.
Just last week, the U.S. created the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, banning the selling and trading of elephant ivory. This will have a major impact on the trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) reports that behind China, the U.S. has been the number one importer of animal products.
While CITES banned the trade of illegal wildlife products years ago, not all countries were signatories or fully obeyed the statutes. Now encompassing 179 countries, it has always been completely voluntary. But at last week's Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, it was recast as one of the world's most important treaties — and countries are upping efforts to meet CITES standards.
"The world has never before rallied together to stop wildlife crime like they did this week in London," the World Wide Fund for Nature said on its website.
Next year, Botswana will host a follow-up conference to discuss international progress on combating the wildlife trade.