The spread of the new coronavirus has stalled economic activity, halted travel and locked down some cross-border trade. Another sector that’s feeling the pinch is criminals trafficking illegally in poached wildlife.
“Security is too heavy at the border. Products can’t go out,” said a person in Vietnam involved in the trade. That person spoke to an undercover investigator who was involved in a new report on the state of the illegal wildlife trade.
The pandemic has prevented organized criminal gangs in Southeast Asian countries from moving large quantities of ivory and pangolin scales into China. But any limits on the illegal wildlife trade are likely to be temporary.
“There’s too much money to be made from these products, and there’s too many people involved for this to have a significant long term impact,” said Sarah Stoner, a co-author of the report and director of intelligence at the Wildlife Justice Commission, an international foundation based in The Hague, Netherlands, that works to dismantle illegal wildlife trade.
She and other experts say that while the coronavirus’s limits on travel and business could be an opportunity for law enforcement to disrupt criminal networks, the pandemic’s economic toll could attract more people to the trade.
“We are tracking significant amounts of new trafficking activity in multiple countries, which seems to indicate that traffickers are both still very much in operation and also actively seeking ways to adapt and thrive in the new normal,” said Tim Wittig, the head of intelligence for United for Wildlife, a nonprofit led by Prince William to fight wildlife trafficking.
In a report published earlier this month, Dr. Wittig also found that temporary disruptions to the trade would be fleeting. “Traders have incentive to move product as soon as is feasible,” he said.