As wildlife crime continues to pose a significant threat to biodiversity, local and national economies, ten global organisations, including World Shipping Council and Global Shippers Forum, have joined hands to combat the illegal wildlife trafficking in global supply chains. The illicit trafficking of wildlife not only endangers countless species but also undermines the stability of ecosystems and jeopardises the livelihoods of communities globally

The International Maritime Organisation says that wildlife trafficking is estimated to generate over $200 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal trade, after trafficking in counterfeit products, drugs and humans. Shipping is a popular method of illegally transporting wildlife, since it provides cost-effective opportunities for perpetrators to smuggle large volumes of animals and plants undetected.

Maritime traffic is vulnerable to the trafficking of illegal goods. Due to the vast volume of trade carried by sea, the increased complexity of intermodal supply chains, and the demand for faster, just-in-time deliveries, criminals can exploit weaknesses in global maritime supply chains to move contraband. Mis-declaration and non-declaration of wildlife shipments is common. So is the concealment of such shipments in and among legitimate cargoes.

Stepping up the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking, ten international organisations have joined forces in an initiative led by the World Shipping Council, supported by United Nations Development Program, the Global Environment Facility, and the Global Wildlife Program, in collaboration with TRAFFIC and WWF, and co-sponsored by BIC, Global Shippers Forum, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and TT Club.

Together, they have produced practical guidelines for all supply chain participants, with advice on measures to take, questions to ask to help identify criminal wildlife trade, and guidance on reporting suspicious activities, according to a joint statement issued by the ten organisations.

“It’s estimated that 72-90 per cent of illegally trafficked wildlife, including live animals, animal products, plants, and timber, is smuggled via the shipping industry, so the sector holds a responsibility to rise against transnational organised crime. By taking action with these resources, the sector will have far-reaching positive impacts for conservation and biodiversity growth at the same time as protecting livelihoods of local communities.“ Philippa Dyson, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager at TRAFFIC.

India too is caught in this illegal wildlife trafficking. A report by TRAFFIC and WWF-India found that almost 16,000 kg of shark fins were seized between January 2010 and December 2022. Tamil Nadu accounted for nearly 65 per cent of the shark seizure incidents, followed by other states such as Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, and Maharashtra. The confiscated products were destined for Singapore, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Sri Lanka, and mainland China.

The demand for shark fins and meat is a major driver of the global shark fishery. Shark fins are the most sought-after shark product used to make shark-fin soup, a delicacy, said Merwyn Fernandes, Associate Director of TRAFFIC’s India Office, recently said.

Recently, the Customs authorities in Chennai seized red eared slider turtles and African spurred tortoises from a resident of Pattukottai in Tamil Nadu who arrived from Bangkok.

By working together to increase awareness across the supply chain of how to spot and address this criminal activity, we can prevent the exploitation of global maritime supply chains for criminal activities and protect endangered species worldwide,” says John Butler, President & CEO of the World Shipping Council.

The illegal trade of wildlife across the oceans is immense, overlooked, and often under-reported. Given its scale and vulnerability, it is critical that maritime traffic be central to the collective efforts to mitigate the illegal trade in wildlife, said Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.