Posts Tagged ‘smuggling’

Talking Not Good Enough for Tigers

Friday, November 26th, 2010

In the waning moments of the Year of the Tiger officials and celebrities from around the world gathered in St. Petersburg for the first-ever Global Tiger Summit Nov. 21-24.  Vladimir Putin was there.  World Bank President Bob Zoellick was there.  Leonardo DiCaprio was delayed, but sent a million bucks anyway.  Naomi Campbell made it. 

Everyone knows the tiger is in decline.  NGOs have been telling us that for years, using the big cat to ask for funds, promising to stop the hemmorhage even though very few NGOs have much to do with law enforcement.  Everyone agrees law enforcement is key.  “It’s our number one priority,” Zoellick told me during a launch party for this week’s event in 2008.  An astounding 2.5 years ago, many of the same officials as in St. Petersburg this week met at the National Zoo in Washington, DC to “reverse decline in tiger numbers.”  Harrison Ford was there that year.  Bo Derek was there.  Robert Duvall was there.  So many reporters attended the event you couldn’t get near the speakers, who sat at a table in front of the zoo’s tiger exhibit. 

After their speeches, zoo staff brought out buckets of frozen blood for the tigers to play with.  Except for me and some staff nobody stayed to watch.  Nobody had time for the live tigers.  The meeting broke for lunch and was supposed to reconvene at the World Bank that afternoon, but hardly anyone outside of the NGO world bothered with the second meeting.  Zoellick was not there.  The movie stars were gone.  No reporters showed up.  Expert after expert talked about declines, about cornerstone species, keystone species, umbrella species.  The need for “tiger landscapes” and how protecting the tiger helps every species in its range.  But then a senior World Bank official, contravening his boss, told the room the World Bank could not legally fund law enforcement.  A few months later I traveled to Sumatra where a wildlife trader there said to me, “You want to protect the tiger?  Let one go in your neighborhood and see who will protect it. If you want to protect the tiger you must give me a reason to save it.”

This month’s Tiger Summit has resulted in endorsement of a Global Tiger Recovery Program whose goal includes doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.  Without concrete benchmarks, that goal is fluff.  Still, at the rate the group is going it should not be difficult to double the tiger population.  In 2008 the group estimated the wild tiger population to be “around 4000.”  This year they’re saying “about 3200.”  The numbers get smaller every meeting.  Keep that in mind because leaders this week could not decide how to parcel out the money, so they’ve agreed to four more meetings next year… 

Wildlife trafficking may be the only area of major crime in the world where we let non-governmental organizations, individuals, and celebrities set international policy, funding, and enforcement priorities.  It’s one thing if this were a supplement to existing law enforcement, but with few exceptions it’s not.     

Here’s some good tiger summit coverage…and here.

BC

Thai Success a Failure?

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Thailand’s Wildlife Crime Task Force arrested a Malagasy national attempting to smuggle 218 critically endangered Radiated and Ploughshare tortoises from Madagascar into Bangkok last night.  This arrest comes just 12 days after the arrest of a Pakistani man smuggling an astonishing 1,140 endangered star tortoises into Thailand in his luggage, and is the sixth arrest of a wildlife smuggler in seven weeks, according to the Thailand-based NGO Freeland.  This work may appear commendable, but there is a big problem.

Catching couriers may get press releases but it does not stop wildlife trafficking.  What stops trafficking is (more…)

Officers in Cahoots to be Weeded Out

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Malaysia’s national newspaper  The Star ran an interview of me today, along with news that the Ministry of Environment has announced a complete overhaul of Malaysia’s Wildlife Department, declaring that “Officers in Cahoots with Illegal Traders to be Weeded Out.”  It will be very easy to see whether an overhaul indeed takes place… There is more than one way to be in “cahoots.”  [The media likes to focus on corruption, but failure to act, or to see a problem, is just as damaging to wildlife, as the comments to this post indicate.]

One other thing.  I did not actually say Anson “should have been given a tougher sentence.”  I said:  When two women from Madagascar were caught with tortoises in their luggage, they each got a year under the same law—twice Wong’s sentence.  Given Wong’s knowledge of the law, his history as a wildlife dealer, and as a wildlife smuggler, a judge could well have given him a much tougher sentence.  I didn’t say I thought he should get more time.  The truth is, Wong was prosecuted only for smuggling boa constrictors, a fairly common snake to go to prison for.  He might have been prosecuted for much more.  Still, given what he has done to wildlife during his lifetime, it is hard to pity him whatever he gets.