The Fight Against Illegal Wildlife Trade



Each year World Environment Day is celebrated on the 5th of June under a theme set by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The theme for this year is “GO WILD FOR LIFE: Zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade”.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

When an animal is killed or taken from the wild despite the laws that protect them, they become part of the illegal trade. We tend to associate illegal trade solely with endangered species but this is not so. The sale of timber and firewood originating from illegal logging or sale of fish caught in restricted areas or using illegal methods are also considered to be illegal wildlife trade.

Illegal wildlife trade is thriving today because of the high demand for wildlife-based products such as bushmeat, pets, ornamental plants, leather and medicines. For centuries elephant ivory and rhino horn have been used as religious symbols, medicines as well as to create elaborate carvings. More recently they have been used to make billiard balls, name stamps and piano keys.

Illegal wildlife trade results in over-exploitation which eventually leads to the decline of populations of threatened species. It is also responsible for introduction of alien invasive species and also results in incidental killing of non-target species.

The world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network – Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) – has declared certain areas as “wildlife trade hotspots” where illegal wildlife trade is particularly threatening. They include China’s international borders, trade hubs in East/Southern Africa and South-east Asia, the eastern borders of the European Union, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

Relevance to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is strategically located in one of the busiest international shipping routes in the Indian Ocean. It must be noted that the growing illegal wildlife trade between the African and East Asian regions takes place on this shipping lane. The detection and seizure in 2012 of a container with 359 pieces of blood ivory by Sri Lanka Customs is proof for this. In 2014 a consignment of 28 container loads of Madagascar Rosewood timber which was being transported from Zanzibar to Hong Kong via Sri Lanka was also seized by the Sri Lanka Customs. These two recent most incidents have been highly commended by both the local and global communities.

Earlier this year, International Customs Day which fell on the 26th of January, was commemorated with one of the biggest wildlife-related events in South Asia. The 359 pieces of blood ivory, which had been forfeited by the Sri Lanka Customs in 2012, were destroyed at the Galle Face Green, ensuring that no one else could benefit from this illicit trade.

In April 2015, Singapore and Thailand seized large hauls of blood ivories which may have sailed through the Colombo Port. This makes us wonder if Sri Lanka’s ports are turning into hubs for international illegal wildlife trade. This is why it’s important to revise our laws and regulations pertaining to wildlife trade so that the Sri Lanka Customs can follow more stringent protocol.

Currently there are two main laws in Sri Lanka relating to wildlife trade:

  1. Fauna and Flora Protection (Amendment) Act No 22 of 2009
  2. Customs (Amendment) Act No 2 of 2003

However neither of this is sufficient to prosecute any of the international wildlife crime perpetrators when the necessary domestic regulations have not yet been formulated.

Role of CITES in wildlife trade

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a regulatory body that strives to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants is legal and sustainable and does not pose a threat to the survival of a species in the wild. The implementation of CITES obligations requires that policy, powers, rights, duties and procedures be set forth in national legislation. Therefore CITES cannot be effectively implemented without adequate legal backing by the country’s national laws.

Although India banned the seahorse fishery through CITES a few years ago, the dried seahorses are caught in India, smuggled into Sri Lanka by sea and re-exported due to weaker regulations in Sri Lanka for CITES.  Now, more than ever before, our country needs to adopt adequate legislations. Only then will Sri Lanka be able to join in the global fight against illegal wildlife trade.

What’s happening at the University of Colombo?

The Base for Enthusiasts of Environmental Science and Zoology (BEEZ) is a student based society affiliated with the Department of Zoology and Environmental Sciences of the University of Colombo. In order to raise awareness on this increasing illegal wildlife trade, the Institute of Environmental Professionals of Sri Lanka (IEPSL), together with Biodiversity Sri Lanka (BSL) and BEEZ will conduct a panel discussion. The event will be held on the 9th of June 2016 from 4.00-6.30 pm at the Senate Hall, University of Colombo.

Join us as we strive to create a society that stands up against illegal wildlife trade.