Securing substantial convictions for wildlife crime is a crucial part of achieving zero poaching. A well-functioning judicial-criminal process with stiff penalties discourages poachers as well as encourages the enforcement officers who go to great lengths to make arrests.
The culmination of on-the-ground anti-poaching efforts is successful criminal prosecution. Not only for the incarceration of individuals who would have otherwise remained active in extracting wildlife, but as a deterrent effect for would-be perpetrators. Legislative review should not be limited to environmental statutes alone, but also those dealing with smuggling, money laundering and seizure of assets. Numerous tools and publications exist in this field; the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law provides an excellent repository of information.
An INTERPOL Investigation Support Team (IST) can be deployed at the request of a member country to assist and support law enforcement agencies as part of major/complex investigations of serious criminal matters. An IST can provide a range of investigative and analytical support such as: issuing international notices for fugitives, database fingerprint queries for suspect identification, access to database of lost/stolen travel documents, forensic support, money laundering expertise, investigation planning and intelligence analysis, etc.
Forensic science is the scientific method of gathering and examining information related to the investigation of a crime which is then used in a court of law. Improved understanding, usage and storage of forensic evidence is critical in legally linking poachers to crimes as it ensures criminals are fully prosecuted. The creation of genetic databases is another useful application as it assists in prosecution as well as provides information on the movements of specific animals. Leaders in this field are the USFW forensic lab, the organization TRACE who bring together enforcement agencies and forensic scientists to exchange information and techniques.
Tracking the progression and verdict of wildlife cases is currently a major gap in anti-poaching efforts for most countries in Asia. Not only do such databases show telling trends, such as potential indicators of judicial corruption, they also provide an excellent set of case law tools and jurisprudence for prosecutors who are pressed for time. The UNODC’s Information Technology Service (ITS) has developed goCASE, an integrated investigative case management and analysis tool for government law enforcement, investigative and prosecution agencies.
Many prosecutors and judges continue to regard wildlife crime as a relatively harmless misdemeanor, even in countries and jurisdictions where stiff criminal penalties are available. Given poaching’s clear link to criminal networks and the inherent dangers of armed poaching groups themselves, this perception should be radically challenged through training and awareness raising. Recent events, such as the Asian Development Bank supported Asian Chief Justices’ Roundtable on the Environment are improving awareness levels. The implementation of specialized courts or prosecution units, sometimes referred to as ‘Green’ courts or prosecutors, can also raise awareness in the court system.