Corruption: A threat to our wildlife

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By Kotie Geldenhuys 

Corruption allows organised crime to function and flourish and wildlife crime, specifically the illegal wildlife trade, is no exception. The illegal wildlife trade is a highly profitable illicit business where corruption plays a significant role in enabling criminal networks to perpetrate, conceal and evade prosecution for their crimes. Corruption in the illegal wildlife trade is an international problem which sadly also happens in the Kruger National Park (KNP) which has faced a relentless onslaught of rhino poaching in the past couple of decades. In a research report by Julian Rademeyer which was released in January 2023, he stated that at this stage the KNP’s “greatest threat is internal corruption, itself a symptom of a breakdown in trust, staff cohesion and professionalism within the Park” (Rademeyer, 2023).

In 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, argued that the illegal wildlife trade generates an estimated $152 billion per year (TRAFFIC, 2023) and corruption plays an important role in generating this money. Corruption can occur at local, national and transnational levels and may involve both government officials and individuals from the private sector. Corrupt officials may turn a blind eye to illegal activities, accept bribes to ignore or assist criminals or manipulate legal procedures to protect offenders. The strong financial incentives offered by the illegal wildlife trade can attract individuals who are willing to engage in corruption to further their criminal activities. Such incentives might include the promise of substantial profits, social status within criminal networks and the perception of reduced risks due to corruption shielding them from law enforcement (Wildlife Justice Commission, 2022 and Wildlife Justice Commission, 2023).

Corruption along the supply chain
Some CITES*-listed species are high-value commodities targeted by organised criminal groups which make those responsible for protecting, managing and regulating trade in these species, vulnerable to intimidation and corruption. Corruption plays a significant role in the illegal wildlife trade at every stage of the global supply chain. Corrupt officials, whether in law enforcement, permit-issuing authorities or customs offices, can be bribed or coerced into turning a blind eye to illegal activities, allowing wildlife traffickers to operate with impunity (Wildlife Justice Commission, 2023). An analysis of SAPS records of 123 cases of rhino and elephant poaching revealed that law enforcement and conservation officials were implicated in at least 15% of the cases, either as the accused or by having aided the accused in committing the crimes (Wildlife Justice Commission, 2022).


[This is only an extract of an article that is published in Servamus: September 2023. This article is available for purchase.]

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