Business Day

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The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has ranked wildlife crime fourth on the list of the most lucrative forms of organised crime globally and one of the most expensive security challenges facing Southern Africa.

According to the ISS‚ the vast majority of available data on wildlife crime focused on poaching and smuggling‚ resulting in an emphasis on securing national parks and patrolling border points.

The organisation said more information was needed on curbing demand and understanding how organised crime networks operated.

The need for such data prompted the ISS to embark on a pilot research project Enact (Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organised Crime) in partnership with the Global Initiative against Organised Crime and Interpol.

ISS researcher Ciara Aucoin said data was gleaned from media reports on wildlife crime.

She said the pilot study also covered how poachers were recruited and armed‚ how the smuggling networks operated‚ the extent of overlap between groups and the products they worked with.

The pilot phase of the study covered 10 countries (Angola‚ Botswana‚ Namibia‚ Lesotho‚ Malawi‚ Mozambique‚ SA‚ Swaziland‚ Zimbabwe and Zambia) between 2000 and 2016‚ focusing mainly on the poaching‚ smuggling and possession of protected species.

Aucoin on Wednesday said findings of the pilot study will be released on September 21‚ on the eve of world rhino day.

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Preliminary findings at a glance:

• A total of 1‚035 wildlife crimes were recorded between 2000 and 2016.

• Most incidents occurred in 2016‚ followed by 2015 and 2013.

• SA recorded the most incidents‚ followed by Zimbabwe and Namibia.

• China‚ Hong Kong and Vietnam topped the list of nonAfrican destination countries for wildlife products.

• Of the eight key role players‚ individuals were the most frequent primary actors‚ followed by groups/associations/syndicates.

• Firearms (usually hunting rifles) were the most common weapons used. There were‚ however‚ cases where cyanide was used to poison animals in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

• Police‚ customs officials or other governmental officials were perpetrators in 5% of incidents.

• The top five commonly illegally possessed‚ poached‚ or smuggled species in the southern region were rhino horn‚ elephant tusk‚ abalone‚ pangolin and big cats. Incidents where one or more species types were mixed were the third-most popular after rhino and elephant.

• Rhino poaching was most prevalent in SA and Namibia‚ abalone poaching was most prevalent in the Western Cape‚ and elephant poaching was most prevalent in the Botswana-Zimbabwe-Zambia corridor.

• Poaching and trading in abalone was mostly associated with drug trafficking‚ particularly methamphetamine (tik).

• The top nationalities mentioned as perpetrators were South Africans first‚ Chinese‚ Zimbabweans and Vietnamese.

• The reported market value of different commodities at the time of the crime or seizure ranged between $200 and $1m per incident. Rhino horn and elephant tusk were associated with some of the higher values.

Meanwhile, the ISS has said it would be interesting to see if politicians began to use organised wildlife crime as a political campaigning issue‚ since it was regarded in many quarters as a national security matter.