Interpol joins global war against poaching
With South Africa in 2017 likely to record 1000 rhino killings for the fifth year in a row, conservation and security experts are calling for smarter strategies to track down the big fish who drive global wildlife crimes.
Rather than focusing mainly on the armed foot soldiers who enter state and private nature reserves to shoot an average of three rhinos a day, researchers from the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies believe there is still a lack of data on transnational criminal syndicates that profit from the poaching of rhino and other wildlife species.
"The illicit trade in wildlife is a very serious conservation issue, but has important social impacts too. Syndicates operate in more than one sector. The trade in wildlife products like rhino horn, pangolin and lion bones supports a supply of guns and drugs and contributes to corruption at multiple levels." said ISS researcher Ciara Aucoin.
Aucoin and fellow researcher Zachary Donnenfeld suggest that wildlife crime is the fourth-most lucrative organised crime globally and one of the most expensive security challenges facing Southern Africa.
Aucoin and Donnenfeld are part of a new initiative, ENACT, to tackle transnational organised crime in Africa. Funded by the EU, the project is a collaboration between the ISS, Interpol and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.
ENACT head Eric Pelser said strategies to save Africa's wildlife included more militarised anti-poaching methods, working with communities surrounding wildlife areas, and disrupting the sophisticated networks that recruit poachers from local communities.
EU ambassador Marcus Cornaro said: "With 79% of the world's African rhinos found in South Africa, there can be no doubt about the critical importance of South Africa in the fight against the scourge of poaching, as well as in efforts to address the trafficking of rhino horn and related criminal activities.
"Unambiguous legislation, persistent law enforcement and co-ordinated action along the entire wildlife trafficking 'value chain' - including tackling demand - are crucial elements in combating this organised crime," said Cornaro.
"The human cost of wildlife crime is immense. Poaching can drive away tourism, the economic engine of areas like the Lowveld in Mpumalanga. Pockets within local communities are criminalised; the same communities where many rangers live," said rhino poaching official Johan Jooste.
ENACT estimates that South Africa spends R200-million a year and employs nearly 450 rangers just to protect the Kruger National Park, a magnet for tourists.
Pelser said ENACT hoped to pioneer a new approach to monitoring transnational organised crime in Africa using a methodology first developed to track armed conflict and global terrorism.
"It will generate new data and analysis to contribute towards more effective policies and law enforcement, " said Pelser.
The ENACT project is run from Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France.