Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge

Photo Credit: USAID
The Challenge Blog

Time to Get Serious about Wildlife Crime

Image of USAID Wildlife team holding up #seriousaboutwildlifecrime
Representatives of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge hold up a sign that reads: #seriousaboutwildlifecrime. Photo credit: USAID

On World Wildlife Day 2015, March 3, high-level representatives of the United Nations, the United States government, and leading conservation organizations, as well as the ambassadors of Gabon, Thailand, and Germany met at the snowy Central Park Zoo to express a commitment to combating wildlife crime.

The opening remarks emphasized the scale and devastating social, economic, and security consequences of what has escalated in recent years into a crisis. John Scanlon, Secretary General for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), noted that the crisis is perpetuated by the greed of criminals that reap high profits with low risk of penalty, the ignorance of consumers who purchase wildlife products, and the inability of international legal and political systems presently to halt it.

A panel discussion of the links between the illegal wildlife trade, crime, and sustainable development followed the opening remarks. The panel discussion was moderated by Dan Harris of ABC, a journalist with a demonstrated commitment to covering wildlife crime, who began with three provocative questions: Why did it take so long for the world to get serious about wildlife crime? What's new, and why now?

Poaching is not new, observed Nik Sekhran of the UN Development Programme, but the rapidity of species decline and the involvement of criminal syndicates are new. While 2007 saw 13 southern African rhinos poached for their horns, 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014, a loss of 3 per day.

The tools of the 1980s won't work today to stop the killing, the trafficking, and the demand for wildlife products according to Sue Lieberman, Wildlife Conservation Society's Vice President for International Policy. She said USAID's new Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge is fantastic and added that although technology is no silver bullet for halting the illegal wildlife trade, smart technologies and forensics are a critical component of such efforts along with effective law enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing, government capacity building, and supporting rangers on the ground.

The panel agreed that beyond conservation concerns, wildlife trafficking is a crime that deprives communities in developing countries of needed revenues and livelihoods, while robbing future generations of economic opportunities. Ambassador William Brownsfield of the State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau noted that, decades ago, skeptics raised similar questions about our commitment to and progress made in the fight against drug trafficking, and that in the past a panel discussion on wildlife crime would not have included him or Aldo Lale-Demoz of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their presence, he said, along with increased resource and financial investments and strong partnerships across and within governments show a new global commitment to #getserious about combating wildlife crime.

Catherine Workman, PHD
AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow, Office of Forestry and Biodiversity, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).



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