According to World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) “Living Planet Report, 2020”, globally, monitored population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016. (Source: https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/68-average-decline-in-species-population-sizes-since-1970-says-new-wwf-report). Similarly, according to the findings from a United Nations-backed panel called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published in May, 2019 up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades. (Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01448-4). As per IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species” more than 41000 species are threatened with extinction and that is 28% of all assessed species. (Source: https://www.iucnredlist.org/)
“Due to this exceptionally fast pace of losing species, many environmental experts are now wondering if we are heading towards “Sixth Mass Extinction”. Wildlife crimes such as poaching/hunting and illegal trade of wildlife are major factors for loss of species population at this abnormal accelerated pace along with other factors like habitat destruction and climate change.
Wildlife crime is not an isolated crime. It converges with many other serious crimes. A 2018 U.S. Intelligence Community analysis of multi-agency crime data on East Africa confirms substantial convergence of wildlife crime with other serious crimes, especially drug trafficking. That analysis found that more than two-thirds of the actors in the wildlife crime dataset overlapped with individuals and facilitators in the narcotics dataset; about a dozen overlapped with actors in terrorist dataset and a handful overlapped with actors in the proliferation of nuclear related materials dataset. (Source: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/tnrc-blog-understanding-crime-convergence-to-better-target-natural-resource-corruption)
An INTERPOL Report titled “Environmental Crime and its Convergence with other Serious Crimes” published in 2015, finds links to other crimes, including, Terrorist activities, Human trafficking, Firearms trafficking, Illegal immigration, Drugs, Counterfeit goods, Emissions trading fraud, Cyber crime, Corruption, Violence, Extortion, Financial crime and Money laundering.(Source:https://www.interpol.int/content/download/5086/file/INTERPOL%20Strategic%20Report%20-%20Environmental%20Crime%20and%20its%20Convergence%20with%20other%20Serious%20Crimes.pdf)
The report called “Shared Skies: Convergence Of Wildlife Trafficking With Other Illicit Activities In The Aviation Industry”analyzes data in the C4ADS Air Seizure and World Customs Organization Customs Enforcement Network (WCO CEN) Databases and offers examples of data-backed linkages between wildlife trafficking and other illicit activities and identifies five possible levels of convergence in which trafficking activities can occur: Shipment-Level Convergence, Organization-Level Convergence, Route-Level Convergence, Hub-Level Convergence and Jurisdiction-Level Convergence. Shipment-level convergence occurs when two or more types of illicit product are transported together (i.e. by the same passenger or in the same cargo consignment, mail package, or baggage piece). Organization-level convergence occurs when the same illicit network moves multiple types of illicit product. For example, the US Department of Justice indictment of several members of the Uganda-based criminal syndicate (including Moazu Kromah) shows that the network trafficked ivory, rhino horn, and heroin to buyers in New York. Route-level convergence occurs when illicit actors exploit legal infrastructure along the same path between two points. In every year between 2015 and 2019, flight routes between Malaysia and Hong Kong have been exploited to move both illicit wildlife and drug products. Wildlife seizures included attempted imports of carved ivory, helmeted hornbill casques, tiger and pangolin products, turtles, tortoises, and lizards. Drug seizures included shipments of heroin, methamphetamines, ketamine, and ecstasy. Hub-level convergence occurs when illicit actors exploit infrastructure in or around a specific fixed point. This fixed point may be a geographic location, such as a city or airport, or an abstract one, such as a social media page or a correspondent bank. Johannesburg, South Africa, is a hub for the trafficking of both wildlife and other, non-wildlife, products. Rhino horn, methamphetamines, ivory, and cocaine were the most commonly seized contraband between 2015 and 2019. In Jurisdiction level convergence, illicit actors exploit autonomous or semi-autonomous spaces of governance (as opposed to a fixed point, as is the case with hub-level convergence). For example, illicit actors have exploited Madagascar’s legal aviation infrastructure to traffic both tortoises and drugs.(Source: https://www.traffic.org/publications/reports/shared-skies/)
In May, 2021 Wildlife Justice Commission published a report titled “Convergence of Wildlife Crime with Other Forms of Organized Crime” in which 12 Case Studies have been discussed showing convergence of wildlife crime with other crimes such as corruption, money laundering, drugs trafficking, human trafficking, timber smuggling, modern slavery, migrant smuggling, gold/precious stones smuggling etc.(Source: https://wildlifejustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Crime-Convergence-Report-2021.pdf)
The research paper namely “Connections between trades and trafficking in wildlife and drugs” (Source:https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s12117-021-09416-z.pdf) discusses six methods of convergence between wildlife and drugs. They are:
- Combined contraband: Illegal wildlife and illegal drugs in shared shipments
- Camouflage: Legal wildlife used to hide illegal drugs
- Multiple trade lines: Illegal wildlife and illegal drug lines and routes controlled by the same network/group
- Shared smuggling routes and transport methods: Illegal wildlife and illegal drugs being smuggled along the same route, but at different times
- Barter trade: Illegal wildlife in exchange for illegal drugs (and vice-versa)
- Laundering drug money: Legal wildlife industry used to launder the proceeds from illegal drugs
Wildlife crime is a serious financial crime also. Acknowledging the serious threat of Money Laundering by the Wildlife Traffickers Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published a Report “Money Laundering and the Illegal Wildlife Trade” in June, 2020. In this Report, FATF has mentioned various methods of Money Laundering adopted by the Wildlife Traffickers. This includes ‘Use of ‘Front’ Companies to Co-mingle Illegal and Legal Proceeds’, ‘Use of Shell Companies to Hide Beneficial Owners’, ‘Trade-based Money Laundering (TBML)’ ‘Purchase of Real Estate and Luxury Goods’, ‘Use Of Casino Business’ ‘Money Value Transfer Systems (MVTS) / Hawala and Other Similar Service Providers (HOSSPs) e.g. “fei chen’”, or “hundi”, ‘Use of Pre-paid Cards to Launder Proceeds from Wildlife Trafficking’ and ‘Use of Mobile Apps to Move Value for Wildlife Crimes’ etc.(Source: https://www.fatf-gafi.org/publications/methodsandtrends/documents/money-laundering-wildlife-trade.html)
Wildlife trafficking is a serious threat for National and International security also. Cadres of many Insurgent Groups in North-East India have been reportedly involved in rhino poaching/rhino horn trafficking such as National Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN(IM), Karbi Peoples Liberation Tigers or KPLT and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA).
Similarly, in Africa, wildlife trafficking, especially ivory and rhino horn trafficking are a source of funding for terrorist groups like Al-Shabab, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Boko Haram and Janjaweed Militia.
As wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime and there is convergence of wildlife crime with other serious crimes, this cannot be countered without synergy among all concerned enforcement agencies and international cooperation.
The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) is an example of synergy among global organizations to fight the menace of wildlife crime. It is a collaborative effort of five inter-governmental organizations namely the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO). ICCWC provides coordinated support to the national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to the sub-regional and regional networks.
The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) is a regional inter-agency and inter-governmental organization to combat the transnational wildlife trafficking. It helps member countries in real time information sharing and tackling the cross-border wildlife crimes. Its member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.
The South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) is a regional inter-governmental organization for its member countries to cooperate with each other in the fight against wildlife crimes in South Asia. It focuses on harmonization of policies and laws; strengthening institutional capacity; sharing of knowledge, experiences and technologies among the member countries; and promoting collaboration with national, regional and international partners to enhance the wildlife law enforcement in the region. It’s member countries are India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), 2000, is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. States that ratify this instrument commit themselves to taking a series of measures against transnational organized crime, including the creation of domestic criminal offences (participation in an organized criminal group, money laundering, corruption and obstruction of justice); the adoption of new and sweeping frameworks for extradition, mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation; and the promotion of training and technical assistance for building or upgrading the necessary capacity of national authorities.
In Indian perspective inter agency coordination and cooperation among Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Forest & Police officials of various States, Central Bureau of Investigation, Customs, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate, Railway Protection Force, Indian Coast Guard and Central Armed Police Forces such as Assam Rifles (AR), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo- Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) is required to combat the menace of wildlife crimes effectively.
WCCB plays a very important role in intelligence collection and joint enforcement operations with other Agencies as mentioned hereinabove. WCCB also plays key role regarding inter-agency coordination and cooperation through its Inter-Agency Coordination Meetings which are regularly conducted in various parts of the country and are attended by senior officials from various enforcement agencies.
There are three main institutional mechanisms for inter-agency cooperation and coordination in India. They are: Multi Agency Centre (MAC) at National level/Subsidiary Multi Agency Centre(SMAC) at State level, Lead intelligence Agency Meeting (LIA) for States having international borders. These meetings are conducted on regular basis and attended by law enforcement agencies. Similarly, Economic Intelligence Council (EIC) at National level/Regional Economic Intelligence Council (REIC) at State level meet regularly to discuss economic/financial offences by concerned law enforcement agencies.
India’s coastal regions are vulnerable to smuggling of marine species like sea cucumber, sea horse, shark fins etc. Hence synergy among Indian Coast Guard and Forest/Police/Customs/DRI is must to counter wildlife smuggling through marine routes.
In transnational wildlife trafficking cases Customs/DRI need to coordinate with WCCB/forest/zoo authorities for identification of wildlife contrabands and safe upkeep of seized live species.
India’s land borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China are also exploited by wildlife traffickers. Accordingly, coordination and cooperation among customs/DRI/Forest/Police and Assam Rifles/ Border Security Force/Indo-Tibetan Border Police/Sashastra Seema Bal becomes imperative to counter cross-border wildlife trafficking.
Wildlife crime is a serious financial crime also. Accordingly, there is a need of coordination and cooperation between FIU-India, Egmont Group of FIUs, Enforcement Directorate and Forest/Police/Customs/DRI for sharing of financial intelligence related to wildlife trafficking and for investigation of wildlife crime cases under the provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
For issuance of Red Corner Notice, seeking assistance of INTERPOL, sending Letters Rogatories/Mutual Legal Assistance Request (MLAR) for investigation abroad, cooperation between Central Authority of India, CBI and other Enforcement Agencies are required.
In a nutshell, to counter the convergence of wildlife crime with other serious crimes effectively, convergence of efforts by all concerned law enforcement agencies; International and Regional law enforcement cooperation among countries are necessary.