Standort: / Meldung: "The Pangolin and World Peace"

Joanna Bostock

Reading between the headlines.

25. 5. 2016 - 15:13

The Pangolin and World Peace

Why fighting wildlife crime is not just about protecting animal and plant species, but about human existence too.

The United Nations has just launched what it calls an "unprecedented campaign against the illegal trade in wildlife", which it says is “pushing species to the brink of extinction, robbing countries of their natural heritage and profiting international criminal networks”.

As part of the campaign, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has just published the first World Wildlife Crime Report, which includes data about seizures of trafficked plants and animals around the world.

I spoke to Ted Leggett from the UNODC, who is involved in the research.

Joanna Bostock: One classic example of wildlife trafficking which most people are aware of is rhino horn, but can you give us other examples which we might not be award of and which might affect us more directly?

Ted Leggett: For this research we looked at 164,000 seizures from 120 countries and we found that over 7,000 species were being trafficked in one form or another. This includes animals and plants. The definition of wildlife under the international agreements includes trees, other types of plants, animals including marine creatures like fish as well as corals, molluscs and the whole spectrum.

Thomas Hawk / flickr

All these creatures are being trafficked in various forms. There are 35,000 species that are protected under international agreements, and we found 7,000 of those were being trafficked. This includes all sorts of things that wind up in products that you and I use every day: types of wood in particular, types of fish, or things that we might find in our local retail stores, and not realise that in fact we’re contributing to an organised criminal process because the commodities involved were in fact illegally sourced and introduced, at some point, into the legal supply chain.

Joanna Bostock: I’m not surprised when you say “wood” but I am surprised when you say “fish” – can you be a bit more specific?

TL: A lot of the fish that are stolen are not taken because of their species, they’re just illegally taken, without licence, from the waters of countries, often developing countries which don’t have the ability to protect their waters. They’re introduced to the legal supply chain because you can’t sell a container load of fish in a back alleyway somewhere, it’s something that has to be introduced to the legal supply chain to be a viable illegal enterprise, and we certainly see many examples of this happening.

It all comes down to the fact that there’s a lot of chaos in international trade, the regulation is not there, so it’s difficult for people to say where any given commodity they encounter originally was sourced. This is one of the things the report recommends tightening up. We need to have people involved in trades that make use of wilde source goods – they need to tighten their supply chain controls and this is probably best done through their own internal processes like just establishing trade standards, that we all agree that we will not source things irresponsibly and that we watch each other to make sure that no-one is gaining competitive advantage by illegally acquiring inputs.

JB: It sounds to me like quite a broad challenge. You talked about wood, fish – Can you give us an idea of plants and animals involved in different parts of the world?

TL: We looked at different industrial chains that make use of wild-sourced goods. One of them was the category of medicines, tonics and food, which are all kind of connected...

JB: What kinds of things come under medicines and tonics?

TL: One of them is this very interesting creature known as the Pangolin. It’s a scaly anteater, found in Africa and Asia and in both regions it’s traditionally been used both as a medicine and as a food. With the growth in demand, consumers becoming richer and able to demand products which were previously inaccessible because they’re rare and exotic, the wild populations of this creature have been decimated in recent years.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore

The Pangolin, called Schuppentier or Tannenzapfentier in German, looks a bit like an armadillo, but is a different animal.

With regard to the Asian species of the Pangolin there’s currently a zero export quota on them which means none of them can be legally traded. Despite this, thousands and thousands of are seized every year in illegal trade. People are just picking them up in wild areas and someone is shipping them off to consumers and this is an entirely illegal enterprise.

JB: So who are the people involved in this illegal trade? Are we talking about mafia-style organised crime or is it something else?

TL: Well, particularly on the sourcing end, the people who are picking these creatures up in rural areas may have no idea that what they’re doing is illegal; they have no idea where these things are destined. They’ve simply been told that this creature is worth money if they can get it to a particular buyer at a particular time. There are little armies of people running around wild-sourcing for quite well-developed industries. This is the way wild sourcing occurs in many parts of the world.

It’s not a mafia in the sense that these are full-time dedicated criminals who have other enterprises they’re engaged in – there is some of that, particularly with some of the species we’re more familiar with the rhino horn and the ivory and the tigers, and things of this sort. For a lot of the stuff that’s winding up in legal supply chains, it’s just a matter of dicey business practices, with people knowing that what they’re doing is illegal and environmentally unsustainable, but not everbody in the supply chain necessarily being a full-time criminal.

JB: And now with this first World Wildlife Crime Report, the United Nations is not just trying to draw attention to it but, by providing a data base, to help combat it and provide information perhaps for activist groups?

TL: Yes. Before we started this there wasn’t a means by which the global wildlife crime situation could be evaluated. So we’ve put together this data base which we hope will be an on-going project. It will allow activists and everyone to access information on the wildlife wherever it’s being seized in the world.


Illegal fishing boats are burned off the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, which in October 2015 created one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries.

The idea is to have a lot of eyes on what’s going on, a lot of monitoring as the seizures come online so that we can keep track of what’s happening, spot the trends and look for weaknesses in the illicit supply chains where we can apply leverage and stop what’s happening. Often it’s very difficult in the source countries to take a lot of action, because of corruption and other issues, so you have to be smart about where you apply your leverage in order to stop the transnational criminal activity.

JB: You just mentioned illicit supply chains, can you just clarify the fact that there is, in some cases, a way to legally trade some of these animals, but only a certain amount.

TL: In many parts of the world, taking things from the wild is an important source of livelihood for local people, and it gives developing countries a reason to maintain range for wild creatures, so it’s important that this not be entirely outlawed – it just has to be done sustainably.

JB: And this is where CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, comes in?

TL: Yes, the CITES convention lays down the rules by which countries can trade in species that they know are threatened, but which can be taken from some parts of the world sustainably. Fish is a very good example of a wild resource that we all make use of that needs to be sustainably harvested. If we take out the optimal amount, that will replenish itself, and this provides food, avoids the sort of environmental damage that might be associated with farming activities or other sources of food, so it’s not a bad thing at all. So the idea is that it requires very careful monitoring to make sure that those limits are not exceeded. Criminals necessarily exceed those limits. They go precisely to those areas where the international community has decided there can be no more off take, and that’s where they hit because those commodities, as a consequence of the prohibition on their harvesting become very valuable very quickly.

JB: Given than many parts of the world are facing all sorts of crises at the moment, humanitarian crises, to what extent is there the will and the money to move forward significantly on fighting wildlife crime?

TL: I think there’s tremendous international goodwill on this topic right now, the fact that we produced this report is an example of that shows the international community has become very aware. There’s actually a sustainable development goal passed recently, a target of which is focussed on the question of the illegal wildlife trade. I think people realise that environmental protection is part of sustainable development, is part of poverty eradication, it’s part of promoting peace. Peace oftentimes comes out of economic or environmental crises, the future may be characterised by conflicts over water or natural resources, so by ensuring sustainable use of those resources collectively, we can cut off some of these issues in the future.