TT Talk - Wildlife crime update

Illegal pangolin trade

A previous article highlighted the exploitation of the global transport network by wildlife traffickers and the threats posed to the sector, including to human health and security. Here we revisit this important topic, considering wider risks associated with wildlife crime and their impact on the legitimate supply chain.

Over the past 30 years there has been an increase in emerging infectious diseases, more than 70% of which are considered to be zoonotic (infectious diseases able to pass between animals and humans). Until recently, the most widely publicised was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Although the source of this latest coronavirus - SARS-CoV-2 - has yet to be confirmed, suspicions that it emerged from the illegal wildlife trade were amongst the earliest theories, with a possible transmission pathway from bats, via pangolins to people. Emerging only at the end of 2019, in the first quarter of 2020 the associated disease, COVID-19, has caused a global pandemic.

Pangolins remain the most trafficked mammals in the world despite the international ban on the trade of all pangolin species since January 2017. An estimate of 900,000 pangolins globally were trafficked from 2000–2019, while over 96,000 kg of pangolin scales mostly of African species were seized from 2017–2019 across Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Animals unfortunate enough to end up in the illegal wildlife trade are often transported, stored, slaughtered and sold in conditions that are cramped and unhygienic. It is understandable that diseases thrive in such circumstances. The illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is highly likely to exacerbate the risk of future zoonoses. In reality, high risk is present along the entire trade chain, from points of capture, where trappers and hunters handle animals, through trade collection points, transport hubs and vehicles to end markets where people and different species may be in close proximity. Many of these nodes inevitably will involve stakeholders in the legitimate supply chain (source).

“illegal and unregulated wildlife trade is highly likely to exacerbate the risk of future zoonoses”

Wildlife trafficking through the legitimate supply chain

The value of illegal wildlife trade is estimated at between US$7 billion and US$23 billion per year, making it one of the most lucrative illegal businesses after drugs, counterfeit goods and human trafficking. It is often run by sophisticated, international, and well-organised criminal networks.

The illegal trade in wildlife is a logistics and transport intensive activity. Traffickers are heavily reliant on legitimate supply chains to move wild live or dead animals and their parts from source to end markets across the world. Factors such as travel distance, location, quantity and the type of product will all influence the type of transport networks and modes traffickers will use. 

In most cases, however, the process starts with an overland journey to reach a port of export, whether for air or sea transport. The complex range of players is summarised in the diagram below.

©M.Zavagli (TRAFFIC)

The risk exposures to legitimate transport operators are many, including reputational, economic and legal risks. It is clear that wildlife trafficking also demands attention from a health and safety perspective, especially with the transport of live animals and meat that bypasses any quarantine and health controls.

“The risk exposures to legitimate transport operators are many”

Seizures of such shipments continue to increase as the modus operandi and the routes of the trade are better understood. Where seizures are made or the authorities present risk to the shipper, there is an increased likelihood of abandonment of goods, resulting in cost and disruption for legitimate operators. Furthermore, media publicity around seizures exposes carriers, terminals and logistics operators to the reputational risk associated with this trade. That said media could also be an ally in highlighting proactive efforts to assist authorities.

Mitigating the risks

The illegal shippers of these goods, as with any illicit trade, are masters of their craft. As a result of seizure analyses and research projects undertaken by organisations like TRAFFIC, more is known about the shipment of these goods. Stakeholders in the legitimate supply chain should be mindful of concealment methods and other red flags, such as those highlighted in the infographics below.

Common false declarations for shipments of ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales from Africa to Asia (click image to see report, Table 5, pg. 43)

When placing this type of illegal cargo into the supply chain they are inevitably mis-declared or entirely undeclared. The trafficker is unlikely to have a sound knowledge when it comes to the low value commodities within which these goods are hidden. As a result, incorrect or incomplete customs declarations and shipping information are often supplied by the shipper. Operators in affected origin regions need to be vigilant.

As a stakeholder in the supply chain it is always advisable to perform due diligence on your contractual counter-parties, whether it be the shipper or your sub-contractor, to ensure their legitimacy and to protect your own business. Shell or cover companies are frequently used to move these types of goods to avoid detection. A sound due diligence procedure will assist in identifying and interrogating new trade partners and consequently highlight any suspicions.

“A sound due diligence procedure will assist in identifying and interrogating new trade partners and consequently highlight any suspicions”

It is important to continue raising awareness of this illegal trade. Other valuable resources include an e-learning course developed by TRAFFIC, in collaboration with FIATA, which is freely available here. ROUTES has also compiled related training resources.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance in the preparation of this article of TRAFFIC.

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox
Risk Management Director, TT Club


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