Drug runners, weapons smugglers and even militant groups are cashing in on the lucrative trade of rare wildlife, pushing an ever-expanding range of animal species toward extinction, according to a Time Magazine special report.
Titled "How Organized Crime Fuels Poaching," the Time report explains how the crisis is exacerbated by the seeming inability of governments worldwide to coordinate efforts to deter the poaching trade.
China recently reversed a 25-year-old ban on using tiger and rhino parts in traditional medicine, a slap in the face for conservationists.
The policy reversal also raises fears that poaching is not just harmful for wildlife populations, but increases violence and instability in regions already affected by terrorism, according to the Time Magazine report.
“The criminal networks moving these illicit commodities do business with terrorist, rebel and extremist groups,” Kate Brooks, a photojournalist and the director of a new documentary film titled “The Last Animals,” told Time Magazine in an Oct. 30 interview.
The Department of Homeland Security has its own agent in Nairobi, Kenya, to combat the profits being made by organized crime, and 17 U.S. government agencies are currently involved in trying to stop the trade, Times reported. The price of rhino horns and elephant ivory on the black market show the attraction for organized crime.
Brooks said she found a bracelet made of rhino horn selling for $4,800 in Southeast Asia. “That’s more than the street value of cocaine,” she said.
Recently, two reputed poachers, Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha, pleaded guilty in a Southern District of New York courtroom to six counts of drug trafficking, revealing the growing ties between the trade of rare animals and drug- and gun-running criminals.
Kingpins of the illegal wildlife trade
The two men, who were connected to the poaching of 30 tons of illegal elephant ivory seized by the government, are considered kingpins of Kenya's illegal wildlife trade. They face sentences of between 10 years and life on the drug trafficking convictions, according to Time Magazine.
According to the special report, the illegal wildlife trade is worth $23 billion every year and has led to the killing of 7,000 rhinos and 200,000 elephants over the past 10 years.
Brooks' documentary paints a picture of a noble but losing battle to save the animals. She told Time Magazine that she hopes her film will raise awareness among the public of the dire state of wildlife and make people think twice about buying ivory.
She wants governments to act in concert to ban the trade.
“The clock is ticking,” Brooks told Time.
The film “The Last Animals” will be released in the U.S. next spring and will be available in the U.K, Canada and Australia on Nov. 5.