Illegal Wildlife Trade: FATF Report
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released it’s first-ever report on illegal wildlife trade. The report comes amid global concern that the wildlife crime could lead to more zoonotic diseases in the future.
• According to the 2016 UN World Wildlife Crime report, criminals are illegally trading products derived from over 7,000 species of wild animals and plants across the world.
• TRAFFIC: It is the wildlife trade monitoring network and it works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC also works in close co-operation with the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
• CITES: It’s Parties take decisions to ensure that international trade of valuable wild species of plants and animals does not endanger their survival in the wild.
• The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: It provides for protection to listed species of flora and fauna and establishes a network of ecologically important protected areas. This Act lays down restrictions on hunting wildlife animal species.
Key Highlights of the Report
The illegal trade is estimated to generate revenues of up to $23 billion a year.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has described illegal Wildlife trade (IWT) as a Global Threat. IWT has cascading links with other organised crimes like modern slavery, drug trafficking and arms trade.
Criminals are frequently misusing the legitimate wildlife trade, as well as other import-export type businesses, as a front to move and hide illegal proceeds from wildlife crimes. Criminals rely regularly on corruption, complex fraud, and tax evasion.
The growing role of online marketplaces and mobile and social media-based payments are further escalating and facilitating the wildlife trade. Monitoring of such financial flow is very difficult and requires coordinated response from government bodies, the private sector, and the civil society.
Lack of focus on the financial aspects: Criminal syndicates are misusing formal financial sector to launder the proceeds. Funds are laundered through cash deposits, under the guise of loans or payments, e-banking platforms, licensed money value transfer systems, and third-party wire transfers via banks. Accounts of innocent victims are also used, and high-value payments avoided evading detection.
Misuse of front companies: Front companies, often linked to import-export industries, and shell firms are used for the movement of goods and trans-border money transfers. Another common trend is the misuse of front companies with links to the legal wildlife trade.
Wildlife Trade in India
In 2012, India amended the Prevention of Money Laundering Act removing a value threshold — of ₹30 lakh and above — that was earlier applicable to the wildlife trade predicates.
India has a strong legal and policy framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade. Trade in over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivative are prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Poaching and trade in golden jackals may be widespread in India. Other industries that may be more vulnerable to misuse include traditional medicine, décor and jewellery and fashion.
Absence of legislative regime concerned with anti-money laundering laws to illegal wildlife trade will lead to thriving of wildlife crime.
Step for India
Focusing on Financial probe is key to dismantling the syndicates involved, which can in turn significantly impact the associated criminal activities.
Legislative changes were necessary to increase the applicability of anti-money laundering laws to the illegal wildlife trade-linked offences.
India should effectively work on New Guidelines for import of exotic species to curb illegal wildlife trade.
Impact of Illegal Wildlife Trade:
o Illegal wildlife trade has many negative consequences for human well-being and species conservation. Illegal trade in endangered species weakens the entire ecosystems and threaten essential links of the world's biological diversity. Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest global threats in present time, and it also means a narrower genetic pool and therefore less resilience to resist diseases of any kind.
o Criminal wildlife trafficking networks also undermine states abilities to tackle outbreaks of disease, because they force governments to divert human and financial resources that could be allotted to other needs.
o Illegal wildlife trade contributes to habitat destruction, which removes necessary buffer zones between humans and wild fauna, making it more likely that animal pathogens meet people.
o Many emerging infectious diseases in recent times have originated in wild animals. Many of them were not considered illegally traded CITES-listed species. However, illegal wildlife trade flows will only make these episodes worse, by degrading or bringing people too close to animal habitats, and therefore contributing to the spread of diseases.
There is dire need to regulate all the aspect dealing with international wildlife trade including the financial aspect that should be fully regulated. Also, there is need to adopt national wildlife legislation and regulations be fully enforced.
The livelihoods of millions of people around the world rely on wildlife as a source of income and protein. Governments must rebuild post COVID-19 by investing in nature, in the compliance and enforcement of biodiversity-related conventions, in reducing the destruction and degradation of habitats and in the conservation and sustainable use of wild species to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics resulting from zoonotic diseases.
There is a need to have a better balance between human and nature. This means stopping the destruction and degradation of habitats, deforestation and undesirable land conversion.