Demand for illegal wildlife products has driven some of the world’s endangered species to the point of extinction. However, in as much as the stakeholders are putting up a spirited fight, the criminals seem to be winning. This is why everyone needs to do their part in stopping the scourge including the financial sector.

Currently, statistics indicate that more than 30,000 elephants are killed each year. Tigers have become so rare that there are more of them living in US captivity than in the wild. And there is a real human cost as well – approximately 1,000 wildlife rangers have been killed in the last 10 years while trying to protect endangered species. This isn’t simply a conservation issue, the reality is that the illegal wildlife trade is an organised crime which fuels violence, drives corruption, and impoverishes communities.

This brutal business is now worth between $7-23 billion annually to the criminals behind it. Research also shows that it is often linked to other damaging crimes, two-thirds of the cases of illegal wildlife trade analysed were connected to the narcotics trade. That means that combating the illegal wildlife trade offers an opportunity to better tackle the threat of organised crime.

The fact is that, when one shipment is stopped another one will definitely take its place. However, there is a need to disrupt the business model behind the trade. How can this be done? The money ofcourse, the need to move, store and realise proceeds gives governments and the financial sector the power to identify criminal networks via their financial footprints and help close the net.

Sadly, the illegal wildlife trade has barely received any attention as a form of financial crime. In fact, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, only 26% of jurisdictions look at the finances behind the trade. That means there is an important opportunity for banks to strengthen the fight against the trade.

To crack down on the trafficking and tackle the wildlife crime, the financial sector can do these things;

First, the financial system must become attuned to the activity that courses through the system and apply the armoury of tools that they use to fight other financial crimes. At Standard Chartered, they are already training bank branch tellers to better spot potentially suspicious transactions relating to the illegal wildlife trade, we’re making this crime an area of focus for our financial crime investigators and, through their Correspondent Banking Academies, working with clients to better understand and respond to the illegal wildlife trade.

Second, raising awareness of the threat of the illegal wildlife trade, both to endangered species and through the organised crime it supports, is crucial to building and sustaining action. In this regard, Stanchart has a brand campaign showing across 11 countries.  It focuses on the illegal wildlife trade. Through the trusted relationships that they have with millions of customers around the world, including in many of the countries crucial to the demand, supply, or transit of illegal wildlife products, they are hoping to draw attention to the damage the trade can cause.