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Illegal wildlife trade linked to terror groups

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Illegal wildlife trade used to fund terrorist groups, says anti-trafficking organisation

The illegal wildlife trade is "big business".

Thousands of protected animals have been slaughtered and their parts turned into rare ornaments, lucky charms, or even "miracle cures".

The New Paper's investigation into this lucrative trade shows that items made from wildlife parts are only advertised for sale online, but they are also smuggled into Singapore by visiting Thai spiritual masters called arjans, who claim the amulets and charms possess "magical powers".

Some experts have even linked the trade to terrorists and organised crime.


Mr Fiachra Kearney, chief executive officer of Global Eye, a counter-trafficking organisation, told TNP: "We live in a truly (global) world where international trade and travel is commonplace...

"The people we tackle are adept at circumventing multiple laws and often hide in the inefficiency of law enforcement in their home countries while conducting serious illegal activities in other nations."

In an undercover operation in Singapore, agents from Global Eye exposed an arjan known on Facebook as Arjan Pheimrung Wanchanna, who boasted that he could smuggle dead tiger cubs, human foetuses, and skull fragments into the Republic.

It is claimed that these charms bring wealth and protection to their owners.

Well-known publications such as Time magazine and The Guardian have reported on the links between animal poaching and terror groups, particularly in Africa.

In August last year, The Guardian reported that National Geographic reporter Bryan Christy had given a fake elephant ivory with an embedded GPS tracking device to traffickers in the Central African Republic.

The fake ivory was tracked north to the headquarters of rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which is headed by Joseph Kony, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

It was later passed on to the Sudanese army in exchange for money or weapons, The Guardian reported.


Mr Christy also interviewed an LRA deserter who said that an armed detachment of the LRA was tasked with killing people, and another with killing elephants.

Estimates vary on how much the illegal wildlife trade is worth every year.

The United Nations Environment Programme's May 2016 Illegal Trade in Wildlife Fact Sheet puts the figure at about US$213 billion (S$300 billion) annually. 

Despite some animals being hunted to near extinction, criminal networks still gravitate towards the trade because of the high profits.

Mr Kearney said that the issue should not be viewed solely as a wildlife trafficking problem.

He said: "There are breaches of quarantine, customs and organised crime laws. They may include elements of serious financial crime and, in certain cases, directly compromise national security.

"So it is not enough to consider these actions only as wildlife and human trafficking, but rather as serious and multilayered international crimes that must be treated as such."

The Global Eye probe on Arjan Pheim revealed that he maintains a network across several South-east Asian countries including Singapore.

Arjan Pheim, who is one of many Thai arjans visiting Singapore every year, advertised his business openly on Facebook.

But he will sell highly illegal items such as tiger cubs, human foetuses and fingers only to trusted buyers who are in private chat groups on his WeChat account.

The availability of banned wildlife amulets in Singapore hint at the demand for them, said Mr Kearney.

"The case of this arjan shows there are Singaporeans who buy parts of endangered species and dead human beings," he said.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has employed a multi-pronged approach in tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

Some measures include working closely with administrators of online forums to post warnings about the possession and sale of illegal wildlife, sharing of information with partner enforcement agencies, investigating all feedback on the illegal wildlife trade, conducting regular unannounced checks on retail outlets, and inspecting shipments from high-risk countries.

An AVA spokesman told TNP: "We have zero tolerance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to trade endangered species and their parts.

"Any illegally acquired or imported products that contain or purport to contain endangered species detected will be seized."

The agency also said it had been collaborating with international and local agencies on border inspections and intelligence gathering.

What you should know about illegal wildlife trade

The information below was taken from the United Nations Environment Programme's Illegal Trade in Wildlife Fact Sheet, published in May this year.

  • Illegal trade in wildlife and natural resources is valued at around US$213 billion (S$300 billion) annually.
  • Chimpanzees are now extinct in Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo.

  • Poachers in Africa killed at least 1,338 rhinos in 2015.
  • Rhino poaching in South Africa increased by almost 9,000 per cent between 2007 and 2015 from 13 rhinos killed in 2007 to 1,175 rhinos killed in 2015.

  • African savannah elephants have declined by 60 per cent in the United Republic of Tanzania and by 50 per cent in Mozambique since 2009.
  • About two apes were reported seized each week between 2013 and 2015.
  • About 100,000 African elephants were killed from 2010 to 2012, out of a population estimated at less than 500,000.
  • According to non-profit foundation Thin Green Line, more than 1,000 park rangers were killed in the line of duty in the last decade.

  • In the last decade, one million animals were trafficked, out of which pangolins (above)made up the largest number.
  • An estimated 170 tonnes of ivory were illegally exported from Africa between 2009 and 2014.
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