Is Nigeria evolving into a Transit Hub for Wildlife Trafficking?

Abuja, 3 March 2019 - Late January this year, more than US$8 million worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales were confiscated by Hong Kong customs from a shipping container coming from Nigeria, making this the biggest seizure of pangolin scales, by value and weight, ever in the city. Another incident back in October 2018 led Vietnamese authorities to intercept more than eight metric tons of pangolin scales and ivory, also arriving from Nigeria.

Over the past twelve months, a total of 25 tons of ivory and pangolin scales were seized in Asia which allegedly originated from Nigeria, while 13 tons of pangolin scales were seized in Nigeria. This marks a sharp increase from the almost eight tons of pangolin scales seized by States parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016 and 2017. 

 Pangolins are believed to be the world's most trafficked mammal and are being hunted for various purposes, including for food, traditional medicines, fashion accessories and are considered a delicacy in many parts of Asia. While international trade in pangolins was banned in 2017, after the animal received the highest level of protection against illegal trading by CITES, high demand for such products in Asia continue to make it a very profitable illicit business for wildlife traffickers. According to UNODC's World Wildlife Crime Report (2016), whole pangolins in Nigeria can range in price from US$7 to US$15 while their scales alone would sell for as much as US$250 per pangolin in the destination markets.

 Pangolins smuggled to Asia are unlikely to originate from Nigeria as the species is near extinction in the country. However, it appears that Nigeria might risk to evolve rapidly into a transit hub for illicit wildlife products, including pangolins, elephant tusks and other protected species, destined for countries in Asia as well as Europe, the Middle East and North and South America.

 Tackling this phenomenon is complex and requires the cooperation of multiple stakeholders within and beyond Nigeria, including Customs, Police and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA), as well as the World Customs Organization, Interpol and the CITES secretariat. Building up the specialized detection and investigation capabilities within the relevant law enforcement agencies takes time and is resource intensive. Bringing the legal framework into full compliance with CITES requirements is another challenge. Moreover, understanding fully the role of transnational organized crime in the illicit trade of wildlife and forestry products is crucial both from a policy and operational perspective. 

 On 3 March we are celebrating the 2019 World Wildlife Day - a day dedicated by the international community to raise awareness of the world's wild animals and plants. It is also a day to review our actions as individuals, communities and governments aimed to protect our planet's wildlife and to collectively find solutions to the challenges we face.

 With a view to assisting countries in this urgent endevour, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched in 2014 its Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. The Programme is designed to support States to more effectively prevent, identify, investigate, prosecute and adjudicate wildlife and forest crime. To date, UNODC has provided support to more than 40 Member States, conducted research to better understand trends and patterns of wildlife crime and developed tools, such as a Guide on Drafting Legislation to Combat Wildlife Crime.  As a member of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) - a collaborative effort of  five intergovernmental organizations - UNODC also supports Member States in assessing the effectiveness of their preventive and criminal justice responses, drawing on ICCWC Toolkit and ICCWC Indicator Framework for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime.