Of the numerous wildlife issues that anger me, this has to be at the top of the list, along with the continuing proliferation of the Chinese and south-east Asian market for traditional, animal-based medicines. The world only now seems to be waking up to the fact that conviction rates are shamefully low and that sentences handed out are far too lenient. In terms of a deterrent, the system is clearly not working. However, there are signs that things are moving in the right direction.
Members of parliament in Scotland have recently called for enhanced measures to be put in place to detect wildlife crime, but whether this move will translate into a meaningful shift in thinking to increase sentences remains to be seen. There’s always been strong, albeit sporadic rhetoric on tackling wildlife crime, yet when it comes to the ultimate punishment, the sentencing is often somewhere between soft and absurd. For example, the recent prosecution of a Norfolk gamekeeper for poisoning 11 protected birds of prey amounted to a ten-week suspended sentence. So, after a year of good behaviour, he wouldn’t have to serve any prison term. Doesn’t sound right does it?
Encouragingly though, there is currently a wildlife crimes penalty review underway thanks to our government’s Environment Minister. In my view, one way to bring about more effective deterrents would be to make landowners equally responsible for these crimes committed on their land. A naming and shaming campaign for each offender also makes sense to me, as does a higher-profile level of reporting of these crimes, which are all too often tagged on to the end of news bulletins without much analysis.
Interpol is one of the organisations now adding their international clout to wildlife crime across the world, having recently published a ‘Wanted List’ of criminals who are all fugitives thought to be responsible for some of the most serious crimes against nature. Incredibly, this is thought to be the first time individual offenders have been targeted in this way. The list was drawn up following an investigation by 21 countries. The criminals include, Feisal Mohammed Ali, the leader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya and Ahmed Kamran, who has been charged in the past with attempting to smuggle over 100 live animals, including giraffes and impalas, to Qatar on a military plane.
This is undoubtedly good news; however, against the backdrop of the scale of the problem, it has come far too late. A study published last month by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that a staggering 33,000 wildlife items were advertised for sale online worldwide- and all this from just 16 countries surveyed. Worryingly, much of it was of already endangered species.
Can I interest you in some Snow Leopard teeth, a Polar Bear rug, or perhaps a £55,000 Rhino horn cup? When are governments from say, China, going to stop ignoring the scale of the issue and start getting tough with those buying this sort of thing? After all, they are the main driver for all this needless slaughter, and for what? To allow a wealthy businessman in Beijing the right to watch as a Bengal Tiger is electrocuted and dismembered in front of him and his dinner guests for their entertainment? You may think I made that part up, but I didn’t. That’s what passes for status symbols now in China. Infuriated? Yeah, as am I.
There are now the beginnings of tougher talk coming out of these countries, and in Vietnam and Cambodia in particular, there are campaigns under way that are starting to change their peoples’ perceptions of ‘traditional medicines’ in favour of adopting a more scientific approach to providing remedies.
My homeland of the United Kingdom is far from being immune to the online sale of endangered species. Shockingly, they were fourth on the list of liable countries who were displaying online adverts, after China, Germany and France. The value of animals and animal-related products offered for sale in China alone over a six week period was well over $2 million. It would appear that this report is the tip of a very large and insidious iceberg. The tougher penalties can’t come soon enough.
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