Illegal wildlife trade of horns and tusks is a lucrative worldwide business. In recent years it has exploded into a black market worth of approximately $20 billion a year. No one seems to be exempt from this growing tragedy. Most obvious involvement lies in Africa, China and Vietnam; but Ireland, the US, and now even the Czech Republic and Poland have blood on their hands.
To police the snowballing issue, the US has stepped up involvement with Operation Crash. It is an ongoing nationwide criminal investigation led by the Fish and Wildlife Service, started in 2010, that is addressing all aspects of US involvement in the black market rhino horn trade.
The first phase of this probe (focused on the unlawful purchase and outbound smuggling of rhino horn from the US) has resulted in 14 arrests and six convictions to date. Charges filed include conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion and bribery in addition to violations of the Endangered Species Act.
Recently a father and son team described by federal prosecutor as being “at the apex of the rhino horn smuggling pyramid” in the United States, has been sentenced to more than three years in prison on federal wildlife smuggling and money laundering charges. Their involvement in horn smuggling played a direct role in driving the price of rhino horn to nearly $25,000 per lb.
How are other countries faring? According to WWF (World Wildlife Foundation) data: Laos, Mozambique, Mynamar, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam, and Zambia are failing.
It is imperative that each country step up laws and regulation on illegal trade. It is not just a Chinese or African problem. This is a worldwide epidemic and we’re in this together. While most countries see the wildlife trade as “an environmental problem”, WWFs President and CEO Carter Roberts warns “illicit wildlife trafficking compromises the security of countries. Much of the trade in illegal wildlife products is run by criminal groups with broad international reach, and the profits can be used to finance civil conflicts and terrorist-related activities. Illicit wildlife trafficking is also linked to other forms of illegal trafficking and money-laundering.”
There is something we can all do. We can be more conscientious and alert. There are several steps the public can take to support the elimination of the illegal wildlife trade both abroad and domestically:
- International travelers should avoid purchasing and/or carrying wild animal products, including meat, skins, and traditional medicines. Intentionally smuggled wildlife imports are often concealed in boxes or coolers; if you see a passenger carrying a suspicious container report it to Customs and Border Protection officials.
- When traveling domestically, be aware of national and state laws regarding the transport of wild animals. Some laws differ among states.
- We encourage you to make conscientious choices about your pet choices. Always make sure pets are captive-bred and choose pets that present minimal health and environmental risks (please visit PetWatch for more information), and can be adequately cared for in a captive situation. Please visit www.PetWatch.net for more information.