In the four months since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was first reported by China on 31 December 2019, it has spread to almost every country and caused unprecedented shutdowns across the world. In this short time, border closures, travel restrictions and stay at home orders have had an immediate effect on people’s lives and businesses, and organised crime networks have not been immune.
This report presents the Wildlife Justice Commission’s findings and observations from January to April 2020 on how measures taken globally in response to COVID-19 are impacting wildlife trafficking networks. While the dynamics of this illicit trade are constantly changing even in so-called “normal times”, intelligence collected by the Wildlife Justice Commission shows that traffickers are currently experiencing a range of challenges in transporting products and accessing markets and customers.
Difficulty transporting products into China is resulting in the stockpiling of large quantities of raw ivory in Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia. While ivory stockpiling was already starting to occur during 2019 due to increased law enforcement efforts in China, it has been exacerbated by recent border closures and subsequent increased border security. As a direct effect of transportation difficulties, the Wildlife Justice Commission also believes that stockpiling of large quantities of pangolin scales is now occurring in Vietnam.
Sudden and unpredictable aviation security measures such as last-minute flight diversions are also having an unforeseen impact on criminal dynamics. In March, Customs officers at Can Tho airport in the south of Vietnam made a rhino horn seizure from a diverted flight from South Korea. It is known that corrupt officers at airports facilitate the clearance of smuggled products, but new COVID-19 measures mean traffickers are not guaranteed that the shipment will arrive at their (air)port of choice.
“It is clear that COVID-19 prevention measures have affected wildlife trafficking operations. It is likely that the current lull will only be temporary, as brokers have already made clear that they intend on returning their operations to previous levels as soon as possible.”Sarah Stoner, Director of Intelligence at the Wildlife Justice Commission
Why is the Wildlife Justice Commission releasing this report?
Crime analysts at the Wildlife Justice Commission’s Intelligence Development Unit have assessed the organisation’s findings from the trade between January and April 2020 and the reported seizures made during that period to arrive at state of the art intelligence on the criminal dynamics.
The analysis concludes that COVID-19 prevention measures have affected wildlife trafficking operations. But as crime does not stop, it is likely that the current lull will only be temporary, as wildlife brokers have already made clear that they intend on returning their operations to previous levels as soon as possible.