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We Need a New Approach to Fighting Environmental Crime

Photo: Courtesy of Sander Wehkamp

Depending on the year, between 25,000 to 35,000 elephants are poached in Africa annually due to ivory trafficking, and in just the past 100 years, the rhinoceros population went from 500,000 to 25,000, and tigers from 100,000 to less than 4,000. Oceans and wild places are being emptied with enormous profits for criminals, legitimate businesses and corrupt government officials alike.

Preventing wildlife crime

The vigilance required from international organizations to prevent wildlife crime is hamstrung by a lack of resources and a growingly complicated criminal-trafficking structure. International syndicates that operate in the world of wildlife crime are dark and vast. Traffickers work with businessmen and corrupt government officials to ship enormous quantities of illegal wildlife products, illegal timber and live animals through well-known ports and smuggling routes, with profits going to very dangerous criminal and terror organizations.

Too many moving pieces evade the traditional watchdogs, and the international attention and resources are focused on the same few pieces of this mechanism, such as poaching, with costly awareness campaigns.

The future of environmental crime

The traditional reactive model is failing, and the future of preventing environmental crime is a more pro-active investigation and intelligence-driven approach led by non-governmental organizations (NGO) like the Elephant Action League. Decentralized, intelligence and investigative organizations that prioritize information gathering can infiltrate groups and paint a fuller picture of the issues at hand.

An on-the-ground intelligence-driven approach to environmental crime, run by intelligence and security professionals, is the future in the war against the destruction of our planet. Illicit traders and businesses operating with impunity in the dark can only be stopped by shining a light on their organizations. NGOs with a desire to combat this criminal activity must understand the importance of retrieving contextualized and developed information about environmental criminal networks along the entire illicit supply chain. The complexity, sophistication and financial scale of environmental crime requires a system-wide strategy that is international and collaborative, and this is our blueprint.

Andrea Crosta, Executive Director, Elephant Action League, [email protected]

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