International agencies meet to develop global strategy to combat wildlife crime

18 November 2009

VIENNA, Austria - Representatives from the secretariats of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) are holding their first-ever joint meeting in Vienna to design strategies intended to prevent and combat the illegal trade in wild animals and plants.

Officials from the World Bank are also taking part in the meeting (17-18 November), reflecting the growing appreciation of the substantial criminal financial gains associated with illegal trade and the involvement of money-laundering.

Wildlife crime takes many forms and involves a wide range of plants and animals. It may start with illegal logging in a forest and then stretch across to the other side of the world, where the wood is converted into furniture. Along the way, the contraband will cross many borders, may be concealed using sophisticated methods, and officials may be corrupted to facilitate the smuggling.

Some wild populations of species, such as rhinoceroses and tigers, are literally on the brink of extinction, and the high value of wildlife products ranging from caviar to timber makes illegal trade extremely profitable, generating millions of dollars each year whilst impoverishing local communities. Organized criminal groups are associated with this trade and the wildlife law enforcement community faces daily challenges including heavily-armed poaching gangs, threats, harassment and bribery attempts. 

Due to its international nature, forest rangers, customs and police all have a role to play and greater international co-operation is clearly needed.

Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES, said “I am delighted that these major international bodies are coming together in an example that I hope will be followed in due course at national and regional levels.”

Underlining the need for stronger co-operation INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said, “The threat posed by wildlife crime is often underestimated by the wider public and also by law enforcement. This meeting will provide a strong platform for all of us to identify key areas where national and international organization can better work together to address gaps in responses and develop solutions.”

Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya, commented “The WCO appreciates and fully supports the initiative to set up a strategic blueprint that will lay the ground for a co-ordinated approach to curb this global menace.”

This strategic meeting aims to promote greater national and international attention to such crimes, to find out what is driving different types of wildlife crime, consider how local communities can be better engaged and to offer a roadmap that countries and agencies can follow to structure their response. It will review the legal framework to prevent and control wildlife crime, identify threats and networks, examine the main drivers of supply and demand, and look at the factors enabling trafficking – and how to counter-act them.

The outcome of the meeting is expected to be a comprehensive strategy document that will be submitted for endorsement to policy-makers and senior management of the four international agencies.