Leading investigators are calling for tougher measures to tackle wildlife crime by stripping smugglers of their homes and assets.
Justin Gosling, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, is calling for more international co-operation on tackling wildlife crime, including the smuggling of animals, trees and flowers, which is costing nations billions.
Speaking at a webinar entitled “combating Wildlife Trafficking, Contraband and Smuggling”, hosted by Border Security, Mr Gosling said he wants to see wealth orders handed to criminals to strip them of their homes.
“I'm constantly seeing gaps in the investigation and ability to prosecute cases in court,” he said.
“We need to conduct crime scene searches at the homes and factories [of those who have had items seized], seize their phones and laptops. They may have messages with the buyers.
“We need to exploit the same lines of inquiry in the same way we investigate other forms of crime. It is arguably one of the largest crimes in the world.
“Legislation should allow for proceeds of crime orders on wildlife crime and assets. There is a tendency to think prison sentences will be a deterrent. ”
Wildlife crime is a crime focused on “making profits”, he said, and so it makes sense to investigate how much illicit income has been made and consequently seize criminals' assets.
“We need to use all the tools and mechanisms possible to tackle wildlife crime but we cannot do it without better co-operation,” Mr Gosling added.
His calls are backed by the UN’s crime officer, Giovanni Broussard, who says wildlife crime seizures spiked last year.
Nations are now taking an interest in the issue due to the pandemic and how wildlife crime could cause it to spread, Mr Broussard said.
“In 2021, there were 112 cases relating to wildlife compared to 33 in 2020. We have had a four-fold increase in terms of seizures.
“We have been trying for many years to find the right angle to convince heads of state that wildlife crime is bad as it's destroying the environment. We told them it was bad because of the security concerns but it was not until Covid-19 that it has gained momentum.”
John Scanlon, the UK's chair of the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund, which supports projects aimed at tackling the illegal wildlife trade around the world, said more international effort is needed.
“We need to scale up our international efforts. These crimes involve the theft of vital natural resources from indigenous communities,” he said.
“Successfully tackling these crimes will need co-operation at an international level. I have seen the progress we have made through international action but it is no where near eradicating wildlife crime.”
He believes Cites, the multilateral treaty which protects endangered plants and animals, needs to be extended.
“Just 0.5 per cent of the world's eight million species are protected by Cites,” he said.
“There are only 38,000 species listed.
“We need to intervene early to stop a species getting to the point of extinction. We have to end wildlife crime. A new international criminal agreement on tackling wildlife crime is needed.”
And the illegal wildlife trade has a human cost as well.
Global Conservation estimates more than 1,000 park rangers have been killed by poachers in the past decade.
Experts say the $17 billion a year industry also undermines development and harms local communities.
As part of its 25 Year Environment Plan, the UK government has committed to becoming a world leader in tackling the illegal wildlife trade.
It is investing more than £66 million between 2014 and 2024 into taking action against the illegal wildlife trade through the IWT.
A guide to helping the world’s banks spot transactions linked to the illegal trade in wildlife has been launched in the UAE.