(Bloomberg) — Thirty-one governments ranging from China to Zambia agreed to strengthen laws to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade, which is worth $10 billion a year.
“We will pursue organized criminal networks involved in the illegal wildlife trade,” the governments said in a statement released on Wednesday at a conference in Kasane, Botswana. Steps will be taken “with regard to the detection of money laundering and other financial crime connections with illegal wildlife trade.”
The countries agreed to amend legislation to treat wildlife trade crimes as predicate offenses, meaning that they are considered to be connected to money laundering. That would make the crimes easier to prosecute.
“The commitment to follow the money is a huge, innovative step that provides a mechanism to bring down the trafficking kingpins by hitting them where it hurts – in their pockets,” said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, a non governmental organization that monitors wildlife trade.
Botswana has the world’s biggest populations of elephants and borders South Africa, where poaching of rhinos has surged to record levels. Elephant ivory and rhino horns are in demand in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam where the growing middle class is boosting demand for illegal wildlife products. Rhino horn powder is believed to cure cancer in east Asia.
“China is an interesting player in all this and the skyrocketing demand for illegal wildlife has come from the growing middle class there,” Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of Wildlife Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund said in an interview from New York. “How do we persuade that middle class? that’s where there’s a lot of work to do.”
Vietnam also attended the conference.