Over the years, logistics companies and express couriers have found themselves involved — unwittingly — in the web of international illegal wildlife trade. With its value ranging between US$7b and US$23b per year, it has emerged as one of the most lucrative transnational crimes. In fact, after weapons and drugs, it is the world’s third-largest illegal trade.
Illegal wildlife trade can be defined as the sale or exchange of endangered wild plants and, more prominently, animals. It also includes products that are derived as a result of it. The rarity inherent in these at-risk species feeds into their value and appeal in the market. Mammals are the most trafficked wildlife.
Run by a sophisticated criminal network across the globe, the trade offers plenty of benefits to those that engage in them. These range from satisfying the appeal for rare luxury goods to its traditional use in medicine. Understanding the factors that make the illegal trade of endangered species a lucrative pursuit will offer better insight.
Having access to and owning something that is rare speaks a lot about one’s status in many cultures. For instance, rhinos are continuously poached for their horns, a power symbol among the wealthy classes of Vietnam and China. Some parts of tigers, like their skin and bones, are also significantly sought after for similar reasons. Live captive bred tigers were reported to have been illegally traded among the EU, UK, China, Thailand and Vietnam. So long as there is demand for rare items such as these, illegal animal trafficking will continue.
Because rare species drive a high profit margin, the attractive prices paid in the transaction increase the demand for wildlife. Pegged to the undying luxurious and status appeal that endangered wildlife carries, profit-driven traders will continue to find ways to gain access to these species and traffic them for lucrative means.
Alongside the money-making endeavour that illegal smuggling of wildlife permits, the trade remains highly low-risk in nature. Corruption at many points along the trade chain enables the swift movement of trafficked animals. This includes gaining access to genuine documentation during shipping or having the resources to falsify them. Lighter sentences for such criminal activities do not deter perpetrators either. It is also important to note that the poachers – who tend to be poorer locals drawn towards the money – are the ones who end up getting caught and dealt a sentence. This then leaves those at the top of the trade pyramid untouched by the law and operationally-ready.
Whether traffickers rely on physical interactions, e-commerce or social media for transactions, the movement of these trafficked animals have to pass through a logistics partner. Smugglers typically use the same types of transportation as legal exporters and importers.
Since illegal wildlife trade is a transport intensive activity, logistics is a key touchpoint where the trade chain can be broken. So, what can be done?
It is first important for logistics personnel to be educated on the dangers of the illegal activity and how they can play their part on a logistical level. With TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring network, DHL Express teams learnt how to detect packages with illegal wildlife. This includes recognising shapes and spotting suspicious outlines of popular trafficked parts like horns, skeletons or bones of live animals.
Detecting illegal shipments is only one part of the solution. Taking action on them is another. DHL Express updated their Standard Operating Procedures and designed a guide for employees to ensure secure and lawful flow of shipments through its network. These include processes to identify and report evidence of trafficked animals, and access to law enforcement agencies for prompt solutions. In hot-spot locations like Cambodia, our teams also profile shippers and consistently engage the local police for immediate seizures of illicit shipments. In view of greater sanctions that punish carriers for being involved in unlawful activities such as wild animal trafficking, ensuring that such procedures are in place is critical to operational success.
Since corruption has a significant part to play in the successful illegal wildlife trade market, it is important for logistics companies to sieve out any insider activity that facilitates the smuggling. One way is to establish a strict recruitment policy, which includes screening candidates' backgrounds. Another is to put in place a legally-binding code of conduct that lawfully requires employees to address illegal wildlife trade issues. This includes introducing whistle-blowing policies or helplines to support those who want to report suspicious activities without endangering themselves or others.
Establishing codes of practice in various countries is another step closer to this aim. For instance, in 2019, DHL Express signed a Voluntary Code of Practice to Refuse Delivery of Illegal Wildlife and Products Thereof with 13 other courier and logistics companies in China. This signified our commitment to curbing illegal trade in wildlife in a country where such illicit activities take place on a large scale.
The trafficking of endangered species is complex and multifaceted, but as a logistics company, we have a part to play in combating any illegal activity that is highly rooted in international movements.