A recently published study from the University of Sussex Business School has revealed that illegal wildlife traffickers are exploiting global supply chains, posing a significant threat to biodiversity and the potential for future pandemics. The research emphasizes the urgent need to address this issue through wildlife product bans and the implementation of advanced technologies to detect corruption.
The study, which specifically examined wildlife trafficking in maritime supply chains, uncovered various vulnerabilities that allow traffickers to clandestinely transport endangered species, such as pangolins, and protected wildlife products like African elephant ivory. Weaknesses in the supply chains include the vast capacity of large container ships, poorly guarded ports, understaffed authorities, and pervasive corruption. According to the World Bank’s 2019 report, the illegal trade of wildlife products, including highly valued Pangolin meat in certain regions of China and Vietnam, accounts for an estimated $23 billion in global trade.
Professor Martin C. Schleper, an expert in Supply Chain Management and Sustainability at the University of Sussex, highlighted the crucial role of illegal wildlife trafficking in the transmission of zoonotic diseases, particularly amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Previous research has demonstrated that over 70% of emerging infectious diseases have originated from wildlife, emphasizing the risks associated with close human-animal contact facilitated by illicit trafficking.
Schleper stated, “Unless illegal trafficking is comprehensively tackled, we are increasing the odds of future pandemics. There has been insufficient global acknowledgment of situations in which supply chains are an integral part of wider societal problems. We need swift action from those involved in supply chains and from governments around the world to tackle wildlife traffickers and their hijacking of supply chains.”
The research findings shed light on the economic disincentives for stakeholders involved in the supply chains to address the issue. Suppliers, buyers, customers, monitoring agencies, and carriers often prioritize maintaining the status quo and continuity of the chains, thereby reducing their risk of disruption. This lack of engagement perpetuates the flow of illegal products, as enforcement agencies lack the capacity to effectively monitor and companies face minimal repercussions if illegal wildlife is detected in their supply chains.
To combat this pressing issue, the researchers propose several recommendations that can be implemented without destabilizing legitimate global supply chains. These include implementing explicit exclusions on the transport of wildlife and related products, enforcing legislation by closing legal loopholes, and strengthening enforcement measures. Furthermore, the study suggests leveraging technological advancements such as incorporating “bio footprints” or DNA databases into scanning schemes and utilizing big data analytics and data mining to identify smuggling attempts.
The researchers also emphasize the importance of raising public awareness about the impact and risks associated with illegal wildlife trafficking. Social marketing campaigns and behavioral change initiatives can play a pivotal role in informing the public and decreasing the profitability of criminal activities in this domain.
The study’s findings underscore the urgent need for coordinated efforts from governments, supply chain participants, and society as a whole to combat illegal wildlife trafficking and mitigate the potential for future pandemics while preserving global biodiversity.