Since reading Laurel Neme’s 2009 Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Catching Poachers, Solving Crimes, and Saving Endangered Species and learning that there are 5000 Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents and just 200 Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agents in the United States, I have been shocked but not surprised at the disparity of law enforcement resources put towards drug trafficking and wildlife trafficking respectively.
The notion struck me again recently reading the United Nation’s 2010 World Drugs Report, which estimates that there are 200 million drug users worldwide. With a world population over 7 billion, it doesn’t seem like that many people. Arguably the 200 million + people are willingly engaged in this behaviour and admittedly the health and social impacts upon themselves, family, friends, and society is worthy of addressing.
There is also, as mentioned in previous ‘posts’, a disturbing level of violence associated with the drug trade as is evident by the murder rate in Mexico in connection to the drug trade and cartels. Yet that being said, wildlife trafficking is arguably more violent and involves more people.
For instance, a booming part of the illegal wildlife trade is the illicit trade in traditional Asian, particularly Chinese, medicines: the practice of using wildlife, a significant proportion of which are endangered or threatened, in medicine is popular throughout China, East, South and Southeast Asia, which conservatively could be 1 billion people. This results in the death and suffering of thousands if not tens of thousands of innocent non-human animal victims.
And this is just one aspect of the trade: it doesn’t include food, pets, timber, and decorative items, which are also in demand by possibly millions or tens of millions people. The number of people profiting from the illegal wildlife trade is potentially higher than that of the drug trade as well.
Recently INTERPOL and its partners completed Operation CAGE, a law enforcement operation targeting the illegal trade of birds from Central and South America to Europe. The co-ordinated effort resulted in nearly 4000 arrests around the world. Again, this is one part of a vast illicit trade and again in terms of violence 8700 birds and other non-human animals were recovered, yet inevitably many were already dead and many will not be able to be returned to the wild.
There needs to be an immediate rethinking of law enforcement priorities as tens of thousands of non-human animals suffer and die because of the illegal wildlife trade and our environment is destroyed to meet this demand. Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on helping the planet and our fellow inhabitants rather than continuing to spend time and resources on a proven useless effort to police the drug trade?
Dr Tanya Wyatt, Acting Principal Lecturer in Criminology, Northumbria University