The UN's Lone Ranger: Combating International Wildlife Crime
Now retired, Sellar stays engaged as a consultant in the areas of anti-smuggling, fraud, and organized crime. Criminal syndicates traffic huge amounts of illegal ivory into Asia with little risk of arrest. Undoubtedly it has got worse. Back in , I led a team that visited 14 different countries, looking at tiger poaching and illegal trade in tiger, and in our report we flagged that organized crime was moving into this.
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Myself and one or two other counterparts have since been trying to bang the drum and wake people up to this. So why assign a CITES administrator to lead the war against fauna- and flora- related criminal activity? There are umpteen similarities. The way you exploit poor people, either in cities or rural communities, to harvest things or to prepare things; the way you recruit couriers to ship it; the way you use sophisticated smuggling techniques to move it across borders, or bribe shipping companies and bribe customs officials or border officials. You bribe park rangers, you bribe policemen.
So the wildlife crime organizations are the same people trafficking narcotics and other illegal contraband? Very much so! This is high profit, low risk. We need to be looking at the heads——the leaders of the law enforcement community.
Because it is they that need to be designing, adopting, and implementing the strategies required to deal with organized crime. They need to be engaged and convinced of the vital role they have to play.
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For a large part of my time in Geneva, I was the only international official looking into this field. Hardly any people on its staff are part of its core budget. The World Customs Organization has only one individual looking at wildlife crime. The United Nations is far from being the only organization to make use of a well-known or well-respected figure to help promote awareness and garner support.
Any gathering of them would undoubtedly lead to major fan- and crowd-control problems. Setting aside my personal distaste for the current cult of celebrity, I readily acknowledge that such people can help spread awareness on matters of concern in a manner which could never be so easily accomplished by international organizations or national governments.
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But I think the UN needs to reflect very carefully and seriously if it chooses to go down this road. Depending upon which media articles you read, one could be left with the impression that the UN General Assembly had somehow speedily drafted and adopted its resolution as a result of and in response to the death of a lion named Cecil or the actions of the dentist who allegedly killed it. The coverage of that incident has been mind-boggling and the late Cecil now has his very own Wikipedia page.
This, in itself, can surely act as a warning regarding the cult of celebrity. Personally, I worry that very mixed messages have been sent out relating to what prompted action by the General Assembly and, instead of generating widespread concern over wildlife trafficking and a commitment to combat it, they have motivated reams of ranting about whether hunting of creatures is morally acceptable and whether it might actually contribute meaningfully and practically to conservation.
That may be a very worthwhile debate, and one which deserves to take place, but it must not be confused with what the UN has done or, importantly, how it might act in the future. Those commentators and reporters who are trying to link the two things are misguided. If so, then there are plenty other illicit game hunting examples from countries in Africa, and elsewhere, that fall into such a category. Each deserves investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution. In my view, though, that is not what the Resolution is intended to address. And neither is it something that any envoy should spend her or his time on.
I would go further, an envoy should not go anywhere near debates on hunting or enter into any discussions regarding whether trade in wildlife in whatever form should occur.
What is more, it is organized crime. Trafficking is what occurs in the middle of the very long chain of criminality associated with wildlife crime. They can include: delivering poached fauna or illegally-harvested flora from the initial and original crime locus into the hands of dealers and processors; the transportation of them to points of export, which may be several countries distant; the concealment of those items within cargo or baggage; the bribery or corruption of relevant officials to facilitate that export and the routing through nations of transit; their smuggling or fraudulent import into the final country of destination; and further processing, manufacture, wholesale and retail.
The UN's lone ranger : combating international wildlife crime
That is not intended to be an exhaustive list of types of trafficking. Whilst poaching and consumption are clearly and inevitably associated with trafficking, I do not view them as featuring within the primary focus of the Resolution. This is completely and utterly appropriate. It is trafficking we are currently failing to disrupt sufficiently and it is particularly those who control and organize trafficking who have yet to be brought to justice in adequate numbers.
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It is because we have yet to do enough to shatter the middle links in the chains that I believe the General Assembly would be well-advised to consider the appointment of a special envoy.