20. July 2020

A future without pandemics = a future without illegal wildlife trade

Bridges of collaboration. Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash
Building bridges for fast and effective collaboration on global challenges. Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

Our current struggles have highlighted in drastic fashion that unilateral solutions are no longer sufficient to challenges that are increasingly global and multi-disciplinary.

At the end of last year, covid-19 was a local flu in a city few of us had ever heard of. When news emerged that wildlife trade might have triggered the virus’s emergence, it highlighted the continued risk of zoonotic disease that governance weaknesses in wildlife trade pose. Since then, the virus has truly gone global and unmasked the structural governance challenges which continue to hobble humanity’s response to this tiny organism.

Global collaboration from the ground up

Anyone glancing at the international news will be struck by the breakdowns in East-West communication on everything from trade and technology to peace and security. It’s tempting to say that global governance is in shambles and that politicians are “fiddling while Rome burns”. Yet there are some islands of constructive collaboration – and some big bridges between those islands as well – thanks to multi-stakeholder initiatives involving the private, public and third sectors.

One standout example of such dialogue is United for Wildlife, a coalition of leading private sector firms committed to combating illegal wildlife trade. They are grouped in two Taskforces according to two crucial pieces of infrastructure traffickers seek to exploit: the financial and transport systems. Led by the Duke of Cambridge, the Taskforces encompass Western as well as Asian, African and other firms dedicated to denying wildlife traffickers access to their services.

At the Basel Institute, we co-organise monthly webinars for Taskforce members through our Intelligence Sharing System, which generates, analyses and facilitates information exchanges on trafficking between members, law enforcement and civil society. This has helped to enable quick and targeted action in numerous cases already.

Listening to the locals

A noteworthy highlight from these regular exchanges is the member firms’ willingness to listen to and adopt best practices wherever they might come from. More often than not, this is from firms in countries most affected by the illegal trade in Africa and Asia. Many of these have made exceptional strides in adjusting their compliance systems to the changed reality of wildlife trading during covid-19.

One example is conducting sophisticated analysis of financial flows in areas near national parks to identify increases in poaching. Another is quickly altering algorithms tracking the online sale of illegal wildlife, which has increased as governments in destination countries crack down on both legal and illegal wildlife markets.

Exchanging with the experts

This spirit of listening and openness to ideas was also present at a recent webinar by United for Wildlife, hosted by the Duke of Cambridge. The webinar featured a real balance of multi-disciplinary experts from around the world, providing over 800 participants with the latest analysis on the origins, trends and future actions needed.

We contributed an anonymised first-hand account from a former poacher. Hearing the experiences of someone intimately involved in the trade helped participants better understand recent analysis on poaching trends provided through the Intelligence Sharing System.

Designing our path to resilience

Listening to experts and those with first-hand experience in this way will help us all achieve the Duke’s call to members to contribute to rebuilding society better.

“Right now,” he said, “there is a real chance to ensure that the urgent steps that the world must take to prevent future zoonotic disease pandemics are designed in a way that also helps to eradicate the illegal wildlife trade.”

Find out more about what the Basel Institute is doing to help contribute to global efforts to fight illegal wildlife trade.

Juhani Grossmann

Head, Green Corruption / Senior Advisor for Central and Eastern Europe
+41 61 205 55 30