The chance to afford greater protection to nearly six hundred species of wildlife was the focus of this year’s CITES CoP19 (Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora at the nineteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties), which took place in Panama this month. The Wildlife Justice Commission was there to advocate for the prioritisation of the use of relevant investigative and intelligence methodologies to address transnational wildlife crime.
Our team focused on some species-specific concerns to discuss with delegates about pangolins, rhinos, sharks, and Asian big cats – particularly tigers. The Wildlife Justice Commission also outlined key trends in wildlife crime for consideration by delegates and observers, such as crime displacement, improved intelligence capacity, the use of parallel financial investigations, more use of advanced investigative practices, crime convergence and the need for greater intelligence sharing. As well as preparing expert insights on each of these species and issues, our Director of Programs, Steve Carmody, spoke at numerous side events during the CoP. Always an engaging presenter, Carmody and his fellow experts shared vital information with the policy- and decision-makers best situated to drive change.
Illicit financial flows
On 14 November, Carmody gave a presentation at a side-event organised by WWF UK, “Preventing, detecting, investigating, and disrupting illicit financial flows arising from activities conducted in violation of the Convention”. He spoke alongside John Brown III from the US Department of Homeland Security, Rod Khattabi from Grace Farms Foundation, and Chen Hin Keong from TRAFFIC. Carmody discussed the current lack of financial investigations and identified the needs and requirements to ensure that these investigations are used more systematically to address wildlife crime.
“Every major seizure represents an investigative opportunity that needs to be fully explored. Every movement of a container has been paid for by someone and represents a starting point to follow the money to both ends of the supply chain. Major seizures need to be investigated by multiagency task forces who can use their combined legislative powers,” said Carmody.
Illegal tiger trade in the Greater Mekong Subregion
Next on the Wildlife Justice Commission’s agenda was the EIA and WWF UK’s side event on the threats faced by Asian big cats. As part of this event, we launched our latest report on tiger trafficking: “To skin a cat: How organised crime capitalises and exploits captive tiger facilities”.
Sharing the floor with Debbie Banks of EIA UK and Kanitha Krishnasamy of TRAFFIC, Carmody gave insights into the tiger trafficking underworld and identified key intelligence gaps that ought to be addressed to effectively tackle this problem.
Rhino trafficking poses a global threat
On 23 November, the Wildlife Justice Commission was pleased to co-host a side event with WWF South Africa, examining our recently launched global threat assessment on rhino horn trafficking.
“Rhino horn trafficking needs to be addressed as a transnational organised crime with a focus on those driving and profiting the most from this illegal trade. Law enforcement on its own will not stop the poaching of rhinos or the trafficking of horns, but the full weight of law enforcement has not yet been implemented to address this issue”, said Carmody during his presentation.
We would like to extend our gratitude to our event’s moderator, Dr Jo Shaw of WWF South Africa, and speakers Dr Sam Ferreira, Dr Bibhab Talukdar and Dr Sharon Baruch-Mordo.
Criminal justice for tigers
The following day, on 24 November, we co-hosted another event with WWF, this time focusing on tigers. Carmody presented the opening remarks framing the discussion. A panel of experts outlined the new techniques and tools available to tackle tiger trafficking through a criminal justice response. We also had the opportunity to learn more about India’s successful approach to curbing tiger poaching and trafficking. We are very thankful for the contributions of our speakers – Heather Sohl of WWF, Debbie Banks of EIA UK, and Kelly Morgan of TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, Hosur Veerabhadrappa Girish of India’s WWCC – and for our in-house moderator, Marianne El Hajj.
Moving forward from the CITES CoP
At this year’s CoP, we wanted to help renew the sense of urgency around the protection of wildlife and prevention of wildlife crime. The Wildlife Justice Commission was pleased to see the reconvening of the CITES Rhino Enforcement Taskforce, with a stronger mandate to convene transnational organised crime experts as part of these discussions. We were also delighted to see the uplisting of Requiem and Hammerhead sharks on Appendix II. This listing should give sharks more protection and should facilitate our work investigating criminal networks dealing in shark fins.
Now that this CoP is over, much work will need to be done to ensure that these uplistings are supported by a robust legal framework and an effective compliance and enforcement response. In the meantime, criminal networks will seek to profit where they can and make the most of the time they have before these new regulations come into effect. Organised wildlife crime investigations require international cooperation and a greater use of those law enforcement agencies with a mandate to investigate organised crime, corruption and financial investigations. It takes a network, to defeat a network.