Environmental Threats

Statistics and information about criminal threats to the environment. Illegal logging, illegal fishing, smuggling and other environmental destruction committed by organized crime is collected from wildlife charities and public information sources.

In towns surrounding the city of Naples in Italy, the cancer rate has increased by nearly 50 percent in the past two decades. Health care agencies and security services are attributing the rise in tumors to illegal toxic waste dumping activities conducted by the Mafia.

The Italian mafia won contracts to dispose of toxic waste, yet simply dumped the materials in illegal, unauthorized sites. According to released documents, millions of tons of nuclear waste from Germany was dumped on farms, lakes and caves near Naples.

The toxic materials infected the surrounding environment, causing cancer rates in increase. In the last two decades, the cancer rates for men in the region increased by 47 percent and increased 40 percent for women.

(Additional impact of organized crime today.)

Source:  David Harding, “Mafia’s dumping of toxic waste blamed for high cancer rates in Italy,” New York Daily News, November 3, 2013.

The Attorney General of Peru stated that $10 Billion in illicit funds was laundered in the country in 2012, double the estimated $5 Billion that was laundered in 2011.  The money laundering activity that takes place in Peru accounts for 3.5 percent of the country’s GDP.

(Additional money laundering techniques.)

One new black market crime that is contributing to the funds is extortion. Gangs in a northern city collected over $900,000 in extortion fees between 2012 and 2013 from 14,000 taxi drivers. The funds were deposited into 150 different bank accounts.

According to Insight Crime, other major black market activities in Peru including drug trafficking, which generates up to $1.2 Billion a year, and illegal logging, a $500 Million industry.

Source:  Marguerite Cawley, “Growth of Extortion a Major Concern for Peru: Official,” Insight Crime, October 31, 2013.

According to a marijuana eradication task force in Fresno County, officials has identified over 500 illegal marijuana plantations growing in the Sequoia National Forest and Kings Canyon in Central California in the first 10 months of 2013. Security officials seized nearly 2,400 marijuana plants, over double the number of plants seized in all of 2012.

Environmental and wildlife officials are concerned about the use of pesticides by the marijuana growers. Using a poison called second generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR), the growers use the chemical to keep wild animals from eating their marijuana plants. A quarter teaspoon of the pesticide has enough poison to kill a 500 pond lion, yet marijuana farmers are using up to 50 times that amount on their plants. Officials has found two endangered spotted owls that have been exposed to the chemical, along with 6 endangered Pacific Fisher mammals who have died consuming the pesticide.

(See more marijuana facts and statistics from around the world.)

Source:  Elyce Kirchner, Julie Putnam, and Jeremy Carroll, “Poisoned Parks: Illegal Marijuana Growers Leave National Parks Trashed, Animals Dead,” NBC Bay Area, November 1, 2013.

Up to 20 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo depend on the illegal mining minerals as their sole source of income, according to intelligence agencies.

80 percent of the minerals in the DR Congo are smuggled out of the country into Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.  Diamonds, gold an tantalum are smuggled out and eventually ends up on the international market.

Security experts state that the black market income from these minerals are used to purchase firearms and weapons.

Source:  Mark Klusener, “Illicit mineral smuggling costs DRC millions of dollars,” eNCA, October 25, 2013.

In a 2013 report conducted by the United Nations, the value of diamonds being illegally smuggled out of Ivory Coast was reported to be between $12 Million to $23 Million a year.

Back in 2006, a report examining the Kimberly Process also reported that $23 Million in diamonds was being smuggled out of the Ivory Coast.

Source:  Michelle Nichols, “Embargo fails to stop Ivory Coast illicit diamond trade: U.N. experts,” Reuters, October 24, 2013.

Based on satellite images from environmental agencies, Brazilian based NGO Imazon reports that 78 percent of logging that took place between August 2011 and July 2012 was illegal.

Nearly 122,337 hectares of rainforest in Brazil was illegally logged during the time frame. The amount of illegal logging that took place was 151 percent higher than the 48,802 hectares of rainforest that was illegally logged the year before.

During the year, 34,902  hectares of licensed, legal logging took place, which means that illegal logging cut down 3.5 times more timber than legal logging in Brazil.

Source:  Rhett A. Butler, “Illegal logging remains rampant in Brazil,” Mongbay, October 23, 2013.

In 2013, it was reported that poachers in Zimbabwe used cyanide to kill elephants at a nature reserve. Original estimates by wildlife officials found stated that around 100 elephants died from the poison. After further analysis, the number of elephants killed by cyanide has increased to over 300. Conservation officials state that it is the worst massacre of elephants in Southern African in 25 years.

(All elephant poaching statistics.)

The poachers killed the elephants by lacking water holes and salt licks with cyanide. Once the elephants die, the poachers cut of their ivory tusks. The poachers are able to sell the tusks for $482 (4,750 South African Rand) to cross-border traders in Zimbabwe. The tusks are then smuggled to South Africa, where it can be resold for up to $1,604 (15,800 Rand).

(More black market wildlife trade prices.)

Source:  Daily Telegraph, “Poachers kill 300 Zim elephants with cyanide,” Times Live, October 21, 2013.

All wildlife trafficking information.

A campaign to lower the consumption of shark fins in China appears to be achieving results. According to wildlife protection groups, the consumption of shark fin soup in China was down 50 to 70 percent in 2013 when compared to two years before.

Previously, up to 70 million sharks were killed each year in order to meet the demand for shark fin soup in China. Sharks would be captured and have its fins cut off while the rest of the body was thrown back into the water. The fins would be used in soup and sold at an expensive price at wedding receptions and banquets in order to display a person’s social status.

There were several factors that lead to the lower demand.  First was a public awareness campaign  that featured former NBA star Yao Ming that aimed to educate the public. A survey conducted in 2005-2006 found that 80 percent of respondents did not know that “fish wing” soup was actually shark fins.

In addition to awareness, steps taken by the Chinese government to stop ordering the soup at official banquets lead to lower demand.

Industry groups in Hong Kong state that imports of shark fins have declined by 20 to 30 percent, while the Commerce Ministry reported that consumption of shark fin soup was down 70 percent during the 2013 Spring Break Holiday from the year before. Traders in Beijing Marketplaces have been forced to lower their prices in order to move inventory. A half-kilo of dried shark fin currently sells for $110, down from the previous $165.

(Prices of the illegal wildlife trade.)

In high-end restaurants in Beijing, a bowl of shark fin soup sells for $60 to $325. Some hotels and restaurants no longer offer the soup.

Source:  Washington Post, “Wildlife victory: shark fin falls from favor in China,” Japan Times, October 20, 2013.

The World Bank estimates that up to 80 percent of the timber that is exported from Peru has been cut down illegally. According to environmental protection officials, corruption and bribery by officials in Peru contribute to the illegal logging activities.

In a report by the New York Times, one prosecutor of environmental crimes was quoted as saying that he was offered a $5,000 bribe in order to stop an investigation.

(More examples of bribes to government officials.)

The illegal loggers were previously reported to make up to $72 Million a year in profits. A logger who cuts down a mahogany tree in Peru can make $1,700 selling the tree on the black market.

Source:  William Neuman and Andrea Zarte, “Corruption in Peru Aids Cutting of Rain Forest,” New York Times, October 18, 2013.

According to a survey conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), up to 70 percent of people in China did not know that ivory used in products came form dead elephants.  The people surveyed previously thought that ivory simply dropped their ivory in a way that is similar as how humans lose their teeth.

The IFAW started a three year campaign to educate the Chinese public on the origins of ivory, and the role that poachers play in killing the elephants. According to an evaluation of the campaign, 66 percent of those who saw commercials about the ivory trade stated that they would “definitely” not be purchasing ivory products in the future.

(Prices of the illegal wildlife trade.)

Source:  Jeremy Hance, “Advertising campaign changing minds in China on ivory trade,” Mongabay, October 16, 2013.