New Delhi: Globally, environmental crime amounts to $213 billion, according to an assessment report on environment crime.
The money helps finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatens the security and sustainable development of many nations. The report, titled The Environment Crime Crisis, was released on Tuesday during the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA).
The report focuses on the wide scale massacre of wild flora and fauna in Africa by organized crime syndicates and the subsequent trade with China and south-east Asia, the main markets for exotic plant and animal life. One such terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between $38 and $56 million per year from the illegal trade in charcoal, says the report.
Further in the report, the number of elephants killed in Africa annually is in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 elephants per year out of a population of 420,000 to 650,000; 94% of rhino poaching takes place in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which have the largest remaining populations. Rhino horn poached last year is valued at around $63 million to $192 million.
The report, however, ignores the massive surge in illegal wildlife trade in India since 2009 documented by TRAFFIC-WWF India, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB).
In a meeting on 9 June, policy makers, scientists, research scholars, conservationists, activists, and senior officials from the state forest departments and ministry of environment and forests discussed the steps needed to protect some lesser known species such as pangolins, birds, tortoises and sharks, whose illegal trade in India is little-known. Every year in India, thousands of pangolins, lizards and tortoises are poached, an estimated 700,000 birds are illegally trapped, and about 70,000 tonnes of sharks are caught.
“While the threat posed by illegal wildlife trade to some of India’s most iconic wild animals, such as the tiger and Indian rhinoceros are well publicised, many of India’s less well-known species are also rapidly vanishing because of poaching, yet their fate remains largely under the radar, pangolins are highly threatened because they are subject to a colossal illegal trade internationally, yet their plight is barely publicised in conservation or media circles. Others, like the monitor lizard, mongoose, Star Tortoises, Spiny-tailed Lizards, freshwater and mariner turtles also need immediate attention.” said Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC in India.
“Some of the species we used to see as children such as the Bengal Monitor and Pangolin have disappeared from much of their original range,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General WWF-India.
Little is known about the levels of illegal trade or its impact on species such as Sea Cucumbers, Seahorses and Red Sand Boa.
The report mentions terrorist organization Al Qaeda’s involvement in illegal wildlife trade in India. “Exploitation of wildlife supports a number of non state-armed groups, Al Qaeda-affiliated local Bangladeshi separatists; and other tribal militias in India have been reported to be implicated in illegal wildlife trade (ivory, tiger parts, rhino horns). Al Qaeda and Haqqani networks have been accused of raising funds through timber exploitation and trade.”
According to the report, a multitude of armed groups including tribal separatists, rebels and Islamic terrorists poach within Kaziranga and adjacent areas. Almost two dozen militant organizations are active in the region.
Many reportedly poach tigers, elephants, and rhino in the park to raise organizational operating funds. It is believed that the groups may be linked with crime syndicates in Nepal, Thailand, and China.
The Karbi Peoples’ Liberation Tigers (KPLT) sponsor and organize hunts, arming poachers with AK-47s to kill rhinos to extract their horns and to battle forest guards.
After being apprehended in the act, a member of the Kuki National Liberation Front admitted killing six rhinos. At least 41 rhinos were poached in Kaziranga in 2013, double the number killed the previous year. Most were reportedly killed by AK-47s and .303 rifles used by militant groups.