Trade in Wildlife and Derivatives

Chapter 8
Trade in Wildlife and Derivatives

The trade in wildlife and derivatives is an area of animal harm that attracts considerable attention from academics and policymakers. Perhaps because it is the area most closely allied to mainstream criminology given the involvement of identifiable criminal actors in the form of organized crime and other offenders seeking profits, and its links with other forms of crime such as human trafficking or the illegal trade in drugs, it is easy for the public, policymakers and enforcers to understand. This chapter considers the motivations and criminal behaviour of those involved in the illegal trade in wildlife and derivatives, including the illegal trade in animal parts for medicines and the illegal trade in wildlife for use in zoos, safari parks, falconry and as pets. This form of animal harm is primarily motivated by profit so that those involved are predominantly the Model A offenders referred to in Chapter 3, offenders for whom animal harm is a means through which profit can be derived and the use of animals is simply a form of commoditization. However, the criminality involved can be complex, involving a variety of criminal actors.

The trade in wildlife and derivatives is often commercial activity and an area where the legal and illegal trade co-exist such that legitimate businesses can sometimes use illegal means to trade unlawfully and enter the criminal arena. But it is also an area where operations entirely geared around illegal activity can exist, taking advantage of existing transnational flows and global structural conditions that facilitate trade (Edwards and Gill 2003). Wildlife trade ranges from small-scale trading in companion animals, exotic animals (or pets) or derivatives such as ornaments made out of ivory, to the large-scale smuggling of endangered wildlife for private collectors (Green 1999) or to feed the (mostly legitimate) animal education and entertainment market (circuses, falconry centres, safari parks and zoos). However in recent years the wildlife trade has attracted the attention and involvement of organized crime which increasingly sees wildlife trade as a ‘soft option’ when compared to the drugs trade due to the generally lower level of fines and less co-ordinated enforcement activity of wildlife crime agencies in comparison to the drugs, guns and human trafficking criminal justice regimes. The nature of organized crime consisting of criminal hierarchies organized to maximize profit (Williams 2001, Woodiwiss and Hobbs 2009) is one that continually adapts, develops and exploits criminal networks and supply routes to supply a range of products from counterfeit goods (Gail et al. 1998) to drugs and now wildlife (Nurse 2011, South and Wyatt 2011) with the expressed goal of maximum profit for minimum outlay. This chapter makes an argument for this type of criminal behaviour to be considered as mainstream crime where wildlife has been substituted for drugs or counterfeit goods (although in some cases exists alongside these trades) but where the approach of the justice agencies has not yet kept pace with the development of a global wildlife trade. In addition to its size and the overlap with other forms of criminality, particularly violence and other serious crimes, wildlife trafficking requires a criminal justice response similar to that provided for other forms of organized crime.

Scope of the Wildlife Trade

While difficult to monitor, wildlife trafficking is thought to be the second or third most valuable illicit commerce in the world after drugs and weapons (Webster 1997), and is worth an estimated $10 billion a year, according to the US Department of State (2009) while other estimates place it at between $10 and $20 billion annually (South and Wyatt 2011). Difficulties naturally exist in any attempt to identify the scale of an illegal trade, much of which takes place outside of the sphere of the legitimate monitoring bodies and which, like much animal harm, is subject to variations in the way the activity is measured. But estimates based on CITES and NGO data and extrapolated from seizures by enforcement bodies consistently reinforce the perception of a large-scale trade with a minimum value of $10 billion and which is consistently considered to be second only to the drugs trade. Birds are the most common contraband, with the US Department of State estimating that between two million and five million wild birds, from hummingbirds to parrots to harpy eagles, are traded illegally worldwide every year (2009). The trade is influenced by the ease with which wild birds can be caught, traded and sold and the difficulties that sometimes exist in distinguishing between legal specimens and those prohibited from trade by CITES. Many rare parrots, for example, are similar in appearance to less threatened species requiring expert identification to distinguish between species listed in CITES Appendix I or II and which are subject to trade controls, and those which can be freely traded and breed easily in captivity. However millions of turtles, crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles are also trafficked, as well as mammals and insects.

Wyatt proposed ‘processed commodities, collector’s items, traditional medicines, and food’ (2011: 1) as the main four categories of wildlife trafficking, while Cook et al. (2002: 4) suggested that the illegal wildlife trade broadly consists of the following five areas of activity:

• specimen collecting;

• skins, furs and traditional Asian medicines (where parts of animals such as bones may be used);

• activities associated with drug trafficking;

• caviar trafficking; and

• illegal timber trade.

In the context of animal harm, both Wyatt’s (2011) and Cook et al.’s (2002) categories, except for the illegal timber trade, are relevant classifications in assessing animal harm criminality as they will frequently involve direct harm to animals that are the target of the trade, whereas this is not always the case with the timber trade. However, the timber trade has an indirect effect on animals where the removal of timber from forests indirectly results in the loss of habitats. Deforestation can also result in the destruction of active wildlife habitats causing direct harm to animals in the process and has been cited by some NGOs as either causing the extinction of certain species or severely impacting on their populations (de Bohan et al. 1996). While the timber trade is not discussed in any great detail in this chapter, illegal logging and the timber trade are an aspect of animal harm, albeit one where the intent to kill and harvest wildlife is generally less than in other forms of animal harm associated with the wildlife trade. But timber traders negligent as to the consequences of their activities on animals are nevertheless involved in animal harm and their failure to consider the impact of their activities on animals in the pursuit of profits has the potential to cause significant animal harm given that habitat loss is a major factor in the decline of some wildlife species.

The sheer scale of the legal wildlife trade facilitates an illegal trade which often exists alongside its legal counterpart but also illustrates the profits to be made by trading in wildlife. The CITES Secretariat’s most recent data indicates that the current trend of CITES transactions is generally upwards ‘and averages 850,000 permits a year nowadays’ (CITES 2010: 4). With many species of wildlife selling for several thousands of pounds per specimen this is a significant level of ostensibly legal trade although, as discussed later in this chapter, there are difficulties with determining the legality of much trade. This fact is readily exploited by traders wishing to disguise illegal transactions as legal ones. The level of trade indicates considerable global consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife products, thus a substantial market exists that may be difficult to sustain entirely through legal means providing opportunities for criminal actors to enter the market. In 2009 the US State Department concluded that the illegal trade in wildlife has developed to meet ‘unchecked demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines’, and Cook et al. report that each category of (illegal) wildlife trade has particular ‘methods, markets, routes and “tricks of the trade”, which include concealment, mis-declaration, permit fraud and the laundering of illegal wildlife products through the complexities of re-exports’ (2002: 4). According to Schneider, the trade’s basis is simple in that ‘going beyond the simple notion that thieves steal to make money, preliminary market-level analyses reveal that thieves steal because they know there are ways for them to sell the goods they steal. In other words, the crime of handling is supported by a structure that allows thieves the opportunity to sell stolen property either to people who use the items themselves or to those who sell it on to others’ (2008: 276). Thus wildlife traders seek both to obtain wildlife and sell to an end consumer, or to a dealer or other middleman who has consumers ready to purchase wildlife or wildlife products. However the complexity of the illegal trade, particularly in its transnational elements, is such that a range of criminal actors, from low-level thieves, poachers and handlers through to sophisticated sellers and large-scale commercial operators, are involved at various stages. Thus identifying wildlife traffickers is problematic as these criminal actors operate from capture through to eventual sale given that at each stage, money can be made without necessarily relying on the eventual sale of an animal (except in the sense that this is necessary for the trade to continue). This provides a simple motivation for much of the trade; profit. At the upper end of the scale, profits can be in the tens of thousands of pounds or dollars, sometimes for a relatively small operation in terms of numbers of species sold and, as the CITES data shows, the trade is now global, highly organized and employing sophisticated methods to achieve its profits.

Zimmerman argues that whereas exotic animal traders ‘were once viewed as small-time criminals’ who sold birds in fairs, the international community must now recognize ‘the extensive, powerful involvement of organized criminal rings in the illegal wildlife trade’ (2003: 1659). Consistent with the analysis of criminality outlined in Chapter 3, Wyatt also identifies that ‘what is true for one product in terms of market forces and criminal elements, might not be true for another product’ (2011: 4), thus the specific dimensions of animal harm involved in the wildlife trade require further examination.

As Chapter 1 observes, most endangered species are protected under CITES which contains a sophisticated transnational enforcement regime designed to prevent illegal trading in endangered wildlife but which also regulates a lawful trade in (less) endangered flora and fauna. In addition to implementing CITES, many states have their own endangered species legislation which seeks to provide an additional level of protection for nationally (or regionally) recognized ‘threatened’ or endangered species or which implements CITES with state specific conditions or variations. However, the very fact of the enforcement regime combined with the relative scarcity of some of the animals involved means that criminal activity has developed to keep pace with the challenges faced by increased law enforcement activity aimed at the wildlife trade and the increased premiums that collectors and practitioners will pay for increasingly rare specimens. Schneider comments that ‘because of the purported size, scope, and global nature of the illicit trade in flora and fauna, the potential profits are enormous’ (2008: 289) and the market is likely to endure both as long as there are species to exploit and consumer demand for wildlife and wildlife derivatives. Zimmerman (2003) suggests that CITES has generally been effective but Kosloff and Trexler (1987) argue instead that CITES has experienced difficulties almost from its inception and in some countries the resources of criminal networks involved in wildlife trade far outweigh those of the CITES enforcers who are routinely under-resourced. Fleming (1994) also observed that ‘it is widely acknowledged that many, if not most, Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have problems in implementing and enforcing the provisions of the Convention’ (1994: 3). While this does not suggest that CITES is ineffective as an enforcement tool (and there have been some notable successes in CITES enforcement), the scale of wildlife trade and its attractiveness to both small-scale traders and organized crime as a profit maker means that serious co-ordinated criminal activity is often in direct conflict with low level enforcement activity.

Aspects of the Wildlife Trade

While the involvement of organized crime in the illegal wildlife trade receives much of the academic and law enforcement attention, a range of activities including smaller scale trade is also involved. The trade in animal meat which can constitute significant trade volumes is dealt with in Chapter 7 as this is often either a by-product of or is associated with the (illegal) hunting, shooting and fishing industries. Within these industries, where the sale of products such as bushmeat for consumption is associated with the game and sport tourism industry and its exploitation of wildlife, there are indications of a growing illegal trade that exists alongside the legal one and thus represents unsustainable use of wildlife and is a factor in the decline of some wildlife populations (Robinson and Bennett 2004, Redmond et al. 2006, Mfunda and Roskaft 2010). Consumers of wildlife through illegal wildlife trade similarly risk contributing to species declines and represent a threat to wildlife populations, and it is worth noting that consumers have a variety of motives, including consuming for profit, collection and obsession. Thus the role of the wildlife trade consumer is a factor as while dealers operate as a response to consumer demand, law enforcement needs to consider the circumstances in which wildlife trade continues. Attention focused on consumers has primarily been the province of NGOs through publicity campaigns aimed at educating consumers about the dangers of wildlife trade or the legality of certain products and encouraging them to buy only legitimate wildlife products.1 However, the focus of law enforcement on wildlife crime is primarily on offenders as rational choice offenders with the result that wildlife trade enforcement addresses only part of the criminality and criminal behaviour inherent in the illegal trade in wildlife.

The inadequacies of enforcement initiatives are a common theme in green criminology and are particularly acute within transnational environmental crime discourse. White (2008) identified that the local, regional and global dimensions of wildlife crime represent both practical problems in international collaboration by policing agencies as well as policy difficulties and a lack of clear agreement on how such offences should be dealt with. Tomkins (2005) raised the question of who is going to police international environmental crime although perhaps a more fundamental question in wildlife trafficking is how should legislation deal with illegal wildlife trade as a distinct aspect of animal harm? In May 2002 the University of Wolverhampton published a report on Crime and Punishment in the Wildlife Trade. The Wolverhampton researchers concluded that:

the attitude of the UK’s legal system towards the ever-increasing illegal wildlife trade is inconsistent. It does not adequately reflect the nature and impact of the crimes, and it is erratic in its response. The result is that the courts perceive wildlife crime as low priority, even though it is on the increase. (Lowther et al. 2002: 5)

Although this aspect of the Wolverhampton report was an assessment of the UK’s legal system, its conclusions on the inadequacies of legislation and inconsistency in the way that legislation is enforced are echoed by NGOs who assess the wildlife trade around the world. While CITES provides the international law framework for the wildlife trade the picture of wildlife trafficking that emerges through examining the available literature, enforcement reports and assessments of criminality in different jurisdictions is that of inconsistent and inadequate legislation, subject to an equally inconsistent enforcement regime (albeit one where individual police officers or other enforcers contribute significant amounts of time and effort within their own geographical area or area of expertise). Zimmerman identifies that ‘CITES does not mandate criminal sanctions or provide enforcement mechanisms’ (2003: 1674). So that while Article VIII of CITES requires states to implement measures to penalize trade in endangered species where such trade is in contravention of CITES, the manner in which states do so is a matter for their own national legislation. As a result, CITES enforcement legislation in the UK differs from CITES enforcement legislation in African states which also differs from CITES enforcement legislation in Japan. Thus the extent to which CITES violations are provided for in national legislation as part of the criminal law (discussed further in Chapter 10) varies and reflects societal construction of wildlife trade as serious crime (or not). Thus inconsistency between wildlife trade legislation and subsequent enforcement across jurisdictions (for example different penalties, different police powers and different enforcement agencies existing in different jurisdictions) is inevitable and is often reflected in NGO policies as demonstrating that wildlife trade legislation is inadequate and needs wholesale reform. However, the ad-hoc development of CITES enforcement across jurisdictions reflects national perspectives and the differences in legal regimes as much as it does any lack of willingness to engage with wildlife trade as serious crime. There is thus a risk that no matter what the international legislative regime, the enforcement of wildlife trade legislation through CITES will inevitably be inconsistent, although Zimmerman argues that legislation seeking to combat wildlife trafficking should reflect two central ideas as follows:

• CITES enabling legislation should send a clear message that wildlife crime is a serious crime in the view of the state; and

• the penalties for wildlife crime should reflect the gravity of the crime. (Zimmerman 2003: 1675)

This approach provides a basic approach to dealing with wildlife trade as serious crime but requires further development to effectively deal with the range of criminality in the illegal wildlife trade. While it can be argued that wildlife trade is predominantly committed by Model A traditional offenders operating for profit (see Chapter 3), Cook et al. concluded that the illegal wildlife trade ‘comprises a range of illicit activities at varying scales of operation and with differing levels of seriousness’ (2002: 9), thus different aspects of trade identify different elements of criminality and varied attitudes towards animal harm. The categories of trade identified by the Wolverhampton researchers (and Wyatt’s further consideration of different trade aspects) merit individual examination concerning the animal harm and offender motivations involved.

Specimen Collecting

The illegal trade in live specimens incorporates trading in larger, rare or exotic specimens and is perhaps the most global aspect of the illegal wildlife trade. Trade in live animals (particularly rarer species) is driven to supply demand from private collectors for rare species, or to supply zoos, private ranches and safari parks with specimens for exhibition or hunting as well as the commercial exotic animal trade. Zimmerman identifies that a thriving global black market in wildlife exists and that demand for wildlife and wildlife by-products comes from developed nations while developing nations tend to supply the wildlife (2003: 1669). As an example, pet shops in the west are significant retailers of wild birds. The New York Zoological Society estimates that the United States and Europe are the largest international market for birds with 14 to 20 million birds taken annually from the wild to supply the trade, although ‘as many as three-fourths will die before they ever reach the pet stores’ (1992: 1). Birds are taken to supply the falconry trade in both the west and the Middle East and the perception that wild birds hunt better than captive bred ones provides incentive for wild birds to be taken to supply the trade even though captive-breeding and thus legitimate trade is possible (Nurse 2003, 2011, Wyatt 2009, 2011). Revill (2002) also suggested that for many criminals, private zoos of endangered species have become status symbols and thus animals are actively sought by private collectors willing to pay a premium for specific specimens.

The specimen trade is characterized by fraud and deception. The small amount of legal trade in endangered species through CITES provides a means through which illegally captured species can be transported. Specific techniques include misidentifying the species’ country of origin, the type and number of species or the precise commercial nature of the shipment. Thus animals being illegally smuggled for ‘canned hunts’ might be identified as zoo specimens as might animals intended for experimentation (Zimmerman 2003). Identifying wild species as captive-bred (and thus permissible trade) is a common means of facilitating trade thus many specimens ‘are traded under the guise of legality with falsified documentation’ (New York Zoological Society 1992: 12) placing the onus on regulatory authorities to prove the illegality of specimens. Intimidation and bribery of local CITES officials as a means of obtaining permits are also used as tactics to facilitate trade. Current enforcement systems were not established to tackle such crime, and weak governance, low capacity and inadequate resources facilitate the trade. Anderson (1997) and Zimmerman (2003) identified that certain geographical areas are well known for having weak border controls that make it easy to smuggle wildlife through customs, citing the US–Mexico border and the UK as examples of poor control. Although it should perhaps be noted that CITES enforcement represents a challenge in almost every jurisdiction.

Specimen collecting illustrates animal harm as disregarding the welfare of animals and viewing them purely as commodities. In this respect, it represents direct animal harm where the intent is exploitation of animals irrespective of the consequences for those animals. Mortality rates in the wild bird trade are high (New York Zoological Society 1992) and are likely also so within other forms of wildlife trade where animals will die from trapping and in transit as well as being unsuitable for captivity, ornamental use, or their use in canned hunts (Zimmerman 2003). Thus wildlife trade’s exploitation of wildlife uses a range of criminal techniques in pursuit of animals to be traded and to fulfil consumer demand.

Skins, Furs and Traditional Asian Medicines

A substantial illegal trade in dead specimens also exists, particularly where skins, furs and other derivatives might be sold as part of either the wildlife souvenir market or the traditional Asian or Chinese medicine market (TCM) where parts of animals are used for their perceived potency (see case study later in this chapter). Currey’s analysis of illegal poaching in India during the 1990s concluded that ‘poaching for bones for Chinese medicine, for skins, penises, teeth and nails is responsible for the death of at least one tiger a day in India’ (1996: 1) with Japan, a country with no wild tigers, identified as a major destination for tiger parts and derivatives. Bennett (2011) suggests that in 2010, South Africa lost almost 230 rhinoceroses to poaching; and that less than 3,500 tigers now roam in the wild, occupying less than 7 percent of their historic range. His analysis suggested that the primary reason behind these population declines is hunting for the illegal trade in highly valuable body parts, increasingly operated by sophisticated organized criminal syndicates supplying wealthy East Asian markets. The IUCN, TRAFFIC and WWF agreed, noting that serious poaching in Southern Africa continues unabated:

In summary, between 2000 and 2005, 3.5 rhinoceroses were illegally killed each month in all of Africa, but currently in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone, 12.4 rhinoceroses are being poached each month or between two and three rhinoceroses every week.

Illegal rhinoceros horn trade to destinations in Asia is driving this killing, with growing evidence of the ongoing involvement of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals in the illicit procurement and transport of rhinoceros horn out of Africa. (IUCN, TRAFFIC and WWF 2009: 3)

Wyatt (2011) confirmed that the demand for traditional medicines incorporating original animal derivatives mostly originates in Asia and particularly in China. While the World Chinese Medicine Society (WCMS) has officially declared that tiger parts are not necessary ingredients in traditional medicines (Damania et al. 2008) the trade persists in part due to reliance on claims of authenticity as a market factor. Wyatt explains that ‘there are long held beliefs that wild animals and plants contain better medicinal properties for their supposed treatment uses than captive bred sources, so animals and plants taken from the wild are preferred’ (2011: 2). As a result, even though species such as tigers and rhinoceroses are at critically endangered levels, there remains a persistent and growing trade in these species. Indeed the increased scarcity of the source animals means that they continue to attract a premium among dealers which could contribute further to their demise with smugglers being able to make considerable profits on the trade in such prohibited substances. While legitimate traditional medicine practitioners no longer use wild animal parts in their products there remains a persistent and growing illegal market contributing to animal harm. The criminality inherent in TCM and use of animal derivatives is based on exploitation of animals as a commodity for perceived human benefit and profit. As there is no legal trade in species used for TCM, smuggling of products is an endemic part of the trade which, together with the illegal poaching involved, represents deliberate bypassing of regulations and evasion of law enforcement in order to fulfil the trade. Thus the increasing rarity of species such as bears, tigers and rhinoceroses and their known conservation status has combined to make the trade an underground one where organized criminality has become a feature.

Despite consistent campaigning by the likes of PETA and other NGOs against the use of skins and furs as fashion accessories, a global market in these items also persists and trappers, manufacturers and importers and exporters continually develop their trapping and manufacturing mechanisms to meet demand in the trade. Currey (1996) identified China as a major market for animal derivatives while PETA currently (2011) identifies China as the source of half of the fur in the United States and has cited concerns about the illegal unnecessary suffering caused to animals on fur farms (Mason et al. 2001). Commercial animal fur breeders have incentives to maximize profits by employing high volume techniques which in many cases are either barely compliant with legislation or which exploit the fact that legislation does not directly apply to their operations. Enforcement of such activities relies on the diligence of animal welfare investigators to identify where battery farming techniques constitute abuse under animal welfare statutes. As a result, the fur industry remains poorly regulated although the UK and Netherlands have banned factory farms (European Commission 2001) and animal welfare NGOs in various countries continue their investigations work to prove the nature and scale of the animal harm endemic to the skin and fur trade.