Wildlife crime could be a source of future pandemics, group says

The Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime released Wednesday the details of a possible new groundbreaking legal agreement on tackling wildlife crime that could help avoid future wildlife-related pandemics.

The form of this agreement would be a Protocol under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC). This protocol is the main international legal instrument in the fight against transnational crime.

“The current international legal framework for addressing wildlife crime is inadequate and it leaves us vulnerable to future wildlife-related pandemics,” said John E. Scanlon AO, chair of The Global Initiative to End Widlife Crime (EWC).

“We need transformative changes to ensure our international legal framework for addressing wildlife crime is fit for purpose in a post COVID-19 world,” said Scanlon.

“And today we are releasing details on how we can scale up our collective efforts to end wildlife crime,” he added.

Transnational organized crime

Government representatives, crime experts and civil society partners are currently meeting in Vienna to discuss the global challenges of transnational organized crime at the tenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The proposed new Protocol will be discussed during a virtual side event organized by the EWC at the COP on Friday 16th October at 2pm (UTC+2), register here.

The proposed “Protocol against the Illicit Trafficking in Specimens of Wild Fauna and Flora“, would criminalize the intentional illicit trafficking of specimens of wild fauna and flora.  The negotiation and adoption of any new Protocol is a matter for States (countries), and the States Parties to UNTOC will determine whether these proposed reforms move ahead will be determined by the States Parties to UNTOC.

These states would agree to adopt legislation establishing as a criminal offence the illicit trafficking of any whole or part of a wild animal or plant, whether alive or dead.

Among other commitments they also agree to the exchange of information on known organized groups suspected of taking part in illicit trafficking and the means of concealment of contraband. They also agree sharing of forensic samples, verifying the validity of documents, enhancing controls on the means of illicitly transporting specimens, and taking measures to discourage demand.

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Fourth protocol

If a Protocol is adopted, this would be the fourth Protocol to UNTOC, the others being on human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and illicit manufacture and trafficking in firearms.

The Protocol would signify recognition by States Parties of the devastating scale, nature and consequences of wildlife crimes. It will also recognize the need to scale up collaborative efforts to prevent and criminalize them, and provide States with the means to do so.

“The current international framework does not adequately reflect the interconnected nature of wildlife trade, biodiversity protection, ecological sustainability and both public and animal health,’ said Lisa Genasci, CEO of ADM Captial Foundation, host of EWC.

‘We need urgent action from governments to help restore wildlife populations and prevent future pandemics.”

This is the second briefing paper on international law reform released by EWC. The first being a set of proposed amendments to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to include public health and animal health criteria into the Convention’s decision-making processes.

Scientists estimate that 6 out of 10 known infectious diseases in people are zoonotic, meaning they are  transmissible between animals and humans.  Of the emerging infectious diseases, 3 out of 4 originate from wildlife.

Scientists are increasingly worried about the spread of zoonotic pathogens and, in light of the devastation caused by COVID-19, their potential humanitarian and economic impact.

Estimated value

Meanwhile, the World Bank has estimated the value of illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade at USD$1 trillion or more per year, when taking into account the impacts of such crimes on ecosystems and the services they provide, the loss of government revenue, and the value of the contraband.

“Illicit trafficking in wildlife exacerbates corruption, insecurity, and poverty, has a devastating impact on entire ecosystems, including their ability to sequester carbon, and it poses a risk to public and animal health” Scanlon said.

“Yet there is no global agreement on wildlife crime,” he stressed.

Scanlon said it is time to initiate reforms “given the enormous consequences for people, our planet and our health.”

“We must leave the next generation with a system that is fit for purpose in a post COVID-19 world, one that helps ensure a healthy and prosperous planet, and gives us the best chance of avoiding future pandemics,” he said. (amm/ Media Outreach Newswire)

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