Peru became the first country in South America to expressly recognize wildlife trafficking as part of a law against organized crime, said Oceana Peru, a branch of the international organization for ocean conservation.
“The approval of the November  initiative, which had been under discussion since 2018, is an important step in tackling the growing illegal trafficking of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife in the country,” Carmen Heck, director of Public Policy at Oceana Peru, told Diálogo on January 3. “Illegal wildlife trade is the fourth most lucrative illegal activity on the planet.”
This threat is closely linked to crimes such as narcotrafficking, corruption, and money laundering, says Prevent Amazon, an initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Prevent Project, which provides tools for the prevention of environmental crime.
“We are talking about a large-scale crime that is carried out through criminal networks with international reach. Peru now has more efficient legal tools to investigate, prosecute, and punish this highly complex illegal activity,” Heck said. “Peru is taking a leading step in the region.”
More effective strategies
With the regulation will come more effective strategies, such as better monitoring of the extraction of wildlife and knowing its destination, as well as the implementation of teams and undercover operations to find the leaders of criminal groups, the Peruvian government said.
In addition, it will allow judges, prosecutors, and police to lift bank and tax secrecy, extend the preparatory investigation period to up to 36 months compared to the eight months allowed in a common process, hand out penalties of up to 20 years in prison for criminal leaders, and prevent the reduction of sentences for defendants who accept their guilt, Prevent Amazon said.
This does not mean that all cases of wildlife trafficking will be considered organized crime, because there are also individual players who carry out this illegal activity, who are subject to prosecution and criminal punishment, Heck said.
The new law is aimed only at those who have a structure of three or more people, with distribution of tasks and use of violence for their activities, who have international mobility, illicit business, and who try to have influence over the state and the economy, Prevent Amazon’s report Crime Without Borders indicates.
In Peru, one of the 10 most biodiverse countries in the world, more than 5,000 species of wildlife are seized every year due to illegal trafficking, Rumbos del Perú magazine reported. The most trafficked species are terrestrial and aquatic turtles, the yellow-tailed woolly monkey, the blue macaw, and parakeets, according to the magazine.
Illegal trafficking intensified on the internet during the pandemic, not only on the deep web, but also on social networks and other online platforms, where reptiles and body parts of protected and even endangered species can be found, independent journalism platform Diálogo Chino reported.
China is the largest market for plants and animals smuggled out of Peru, InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, said. Breeders, exporters, and importers supply the illegal international wildlife trade out of the Peruvian Amazon, the organization said.
Illegal wildlife trafficking also has a major impact on the biodiversity of ecosystems, species, genetic resources, and the transmission of diseases due to inadequate interaction between humans and wildlife, according to Peru’s National Forestry and Wildlife Service.
“Congress has already done its part by approving the law,” Heck said. “Now it’s up to the Attorney General’s Office to do its job, prioritize this issue, and implement the law to start seeing the results we all hope for.”
“In the prosecution of wildlife crime, international cooperation is essential, because these are criminal networks that have transnational reach,” said Heck. “It is necessary to identify how the entire [criminal] network works in the countries of origin, transport, and destination.”
“When a country strengthens its measures to address the problem, what [criminal groups] do is to take wildlife through neighboring countries, so strengthening borders is important, as well as exchanging information and experiences and knowing the legal framework of neighboring countries,” Heck added.
Prevent Amazon recommends that other countries, especially neighboring countries, consider wildlife crime a “serious crime” according to the definition of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, as well as identify or establish the different kinds of money laundering linked to this crime.