In September 2013, poachers in Zimbabwe poured deadly cyanide into a watering hole frequented by a large elephant herd. The results were catastrophic for the local wildlife. Over 300 elephants, lions, vultures, painted dogs and hyenas were killed. The tragedy in Zimbabwe is a dismally familiar story. Throughout the world, wildlife is trapped, gunned down, poisoned, and slaughtered, while forests are stripped of their trees. The pace of this destruction is driving some species to the brink of oblivion.
Approximately 22,000 wild elephants are estimated to be killed every year in Africa. The last wild rhinos have already disappeared from Viet Nam and Mozambique, and the world's tiger population, estimated at 3,000 animals, now hangs by a thread. Many countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific have lost huge portions of their rich forests due to illegal logging activities.
Put simply, the killing of wildlife and destruction of forests has become industrial in its scope and scale. Helicopters and automatic weapons have replaced trucks and rifles. Forest crime now uses modern technology and a tangled web of bribery and corruption to move illegal timber across regions. These unlawful activities are driven by relentless greed.
Wildlife crime yields enormous profits for the criminal networks, ranking alongside trafficking in drugs, arms and people. No continent is immune. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), wildlife crime is worth US $8-10 billion every year, while trafficking in timber from South-East Asia to the European Union and the rest of the Asian continent is valued at around US $3.5 billion annually. UNODC estimates that 30-40 per cent of wood-based exports originating in the Asia-Pacific region are illegal. The sale of elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts in Asia alone was worth an estimated US $75 million in 2010. Numerous smaller wild species are also harvested for medicines, food, decorative products and the pet trade.
The plight of the rhino reveals the devastating impact of poaching on an endangered species. After years of illegal slaughter, there are only around 25,000 rhinos left in the wild. Prices paid for rhino horn in the country of origin are as little as 1 per cent of the final retail price, which may reach $20,000 to $30,000 per kilogram. Rhino poachers have specifically targeted South Africa, which is home to 90 per cent of Africa's remaining rhino population. The number of poaching...