In celebrating the 2019 World Wildlife Day, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has restated its commitment to addressing the worrisome global wildlife trafficking, especially as it concerns Nigeria.
In a statement endorsed by its spokesperson in the Nigeria Country Office, Sylvester Atere, the UN body fears that Nigeria risks evolving rapidly into a transit hub for illicit wildlife products, including pangolins, elephant tusks and other protected species, destined for countries in Asia as well as Europe, the Middle East and North and South America.
The World Wildlife Day is celebrated yearly on March 3 and the 2019 version has “Life below water: for people and planet” as its theme. It is a day dedicated by the international community to raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, as well as review actions as individuals, communities and governments aimed to protect the planet’s wildlife and to collectively find solutions to inherent challenges.
According to the UN body, tackling the phenomenon is complex and requires the cooperation of multiple stakeholders within and beyond Nigeria, including Customs, Police and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA), as well as the World Customs Organisation, Interpol and the CITES secretariat.
“Building up the specialised detection and investigation capabilities within the relevant law enforcement agencies takes time and is resource intensive. Bringing the legal framework into full compliance with CITES requirements is another challenge. Moreover, understanding fully the role of transnational organised crime in the illicit trade of wildlife and forestry products is crucial both from a policy and operational perspective,” it says in the statement.
Late January this year, over $8 million worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales were reportedly confiscated by Hong Kong customs from a shipping container coming from Nigeria, making it the biggest seizure of pangolin scales, by value and weight, ever in the city.
Another incident in October 2018 led Vietnamese authorities to intercept more than eight metric tons of pangolin scales and ivory, also arriving from Nigeria.
Disturbed by the news, the Minister of Environment in Nigeria, Suleiman Hassan Zarma, stated: “It was very unsettling when information was received that the Vietnamese Customs made the discovery in concealed containers declared as ‘consigning knocked wood’. More disturbing is the fact that Nigeria was mentioned as the source in spite of our laudable conservation efforts which informed our leading the war against Illegal Wildlife Trade in the West African Region.”
Over the past 12 months, a total of 25 tons of ivory and pangolin scales were seized in Asia which allegedly originated from Nigeria, while 13 tons of pangolin scales were seized in Nigeria. This marks a sharp increase from the almost eight tons of pangolin scales seized by States parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016 and 2017.
Pangolins are believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal and are being hunted for various purposes, including for food, traditional medicines, fashion accessories and are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia.
While international trade in pangolins was banned in 2017, after the animal received the highest level of protection against illegal trading by CITES, high demand for such products in Asia continue to make it a very profitable illicit business for wildlife traffickers.
According to the UNODC World Wildlife Crime Report (2016), whole pangolins in Nigeria can range in price from $7 to $15 while their scales alone would sell for as much as $250 per pangolin in the destination markets.
Pangolins smuggled to Asia are unlikely to originate from Nigeria as the species is near extinction in the country, say observers.
With a view to assisting countries in this urgent endeavour, the UNODC launched in 2014 its Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime, which is designed to support States to more effectively prevent, identify, investigate, prosecute and adjudicate wildlife and forest crime.
UNODC says it has so far provided support to more than 40 Member States, conducted research to better understand trends and patterns of wildlife crime and developed tools, such as a Guide on Drafting Legislation to Combat Wildlife Crime.
As a member of the International Consortiumon Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) – a collaborative effort of five intergovernmental organisations – UNODC says it also supports Member States in assessing the effectiveness of their preventive and criminal justice responses, drawing on ICCWC Toolkit and ICCWC Indicator Framework for Combating Wildlife andForest Crime.