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By the end of this week, it will be five months since a cluster of cases of pneumonia were reported in Wuhan and a novel coronavirus was identified. While over 350 000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 have been reported, data on excess mortality suggests that the true figure is likely to be significantly higher. Aside from the devastating death toll, however, and the huge economic shock that its response has engendered, the pandemic has had a considerable impact on organized crime around the world, creating both obstacles and opportunities for criminal actors everywhere.

Last week’s newsletter took readers on a virtual tour of the globe, exploring the interactions between organized crime and the COVID-19 pandemic from Asia to Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. We explored the resilience of the drug trade in East and Southeast Asia, cyberattacks in the United Kingdom, the growing black market for cigarettes in Argentina, counterfeit medicine in a number of African countries, and looting of artefacts in North Africa and the Middle East. However, stories on prison systems and police abuse demonstrate that the reverberations of the virus are significantly more far-reaching than simply its impacts on criminal markets.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, much focus has been on the impact of the virus on the global drugs trade. The GI-TOC recently published a policy brief on that very topic, titled ‘Crisis and opportunity: Impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on illicit drug markets’. Analysis of the ramifications of the pandemic on environmental crime has thus far been far less prominent. This week, the #CovidCrimeWatch newsletter focuses on two bedrocks of global environmental crime: illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and illegal logging. Accompanying this newsletter, the GI-TOC has also published a series of environmental-crime-related blog pieces that look at the role of governance and regulation, more pragmatic ways of responding to environmental crime issues, and China’s changing legislative stance on COVID-19 and wildlife regulations.


The global trade in illegal wildlife products comprises three broad dimensions. The first is the illegal poaching of wildlife; the second is the sale and distribution, often cross-border, of the wildlife products; and the third is demand for the illegal products. Starting with the latter, a report by the Wildlife Justice Commission found that the sudden dearth in Chinese customers, by far the largest customer base for illegal wildlife products, as a result of the travel restrictions, has significantly reduced demand in Cambodia and Laos.  It has also made it more challenging for those transporting live animals or eggs to carry them on their person, as they may have done previously. Therefore, in terms of trafficking illegal wildlife products, it appears as though the trade has been affected by many of the same impediments faced by other illicit economies. As air travel has been restricted and border controls strengthened, it has been more difficult for criminal actors involved in the trade to export their illegal products.

Although it is true that the coronavirus pandemic has created problems for the latter stages of the illegal wildlife supply chains, there have been mixed reports on the trends in illegal activity in source countries. Despite reports from a number of African countries, such as Botswana and South Africa, that there has been a rise in poaching incidents, in particular of rhinos, it is unclear whether overall there has in fact been an increase. South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has reported a ‘significant decline’ in rhino poaching since lockdown measures were introduced in the country. April saw the fewest number of rhinos poached in the Kruger National Park in a single month since September 2013.

One of the reasons posited for the decline in rhino poaching is the disruption, mentioned above, to the latter stages of the supply chain. Indeed, the minister claimed that ‘the closure of our borders and the complete shutdown of international air travel removed the key way that syndicates used to supply horn to transit and consumer countries’. Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between high-value trafficking, such as rhino horns or elephant ivory, and bushmeat poaching, as the two forms of criminal activity have different dynamics. While high-value poaching is likely to be falling, bushmeat poaching may very well be on the rise, and specifically subsistence poaching.

Reports in India suggest that rhino poachers have taken the opportunity to intensify their activity, roaming around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. One factor that is claimed to have facilitated this increased activity is the drastic reduction in tip-offs about poaching activity from locals, upon which officials rely. However, these so-called tip-offs are for the most part from established informant networks, which typically still exist. Other factors include the animals’ movement closer to places where there is human habitation, thereby making them more vulnerable to poachers, as a result of the country’s lockdown and a major decline in volumes of traffic on the motorway near the Kaziranga National Park.

It is expected that the megafauna we normally associate with the IWT, such as rhinos and elephants, are likely to experience a fall in poaching incidents, for the reasons outlined above, namely the disruption to the products’ distribution to consumer markets. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, a number of countries were experiencing a decline in poaching incidents and there were reports of stockpiling. Therefore, the inability to move products easily will likely exacerbate this.

The abalone black market in South Africa is also experiencing repercussions from the coronavirus pandemic. The illegal abalone market is a complex network involving the poaching of the indigenous, highly endangered shellfish in South Africa and transporting the product to predominantly China and Hong Kong. As a result of China’s ban on imported wildlife products, this black market in Africa’s most unequal country has been brought to a halt, with local prices more than halving.

However, many individuals who resort to the illegal poaching of abalones are driven by economic desperation, and with lockdown restrictions exacerbating the financial difficulties faced by many South Africans, it is highly likely that poaching will resume, and even increase, fairly soon. This may be particularly true in well-established networks characterized by high levels of trust between actors, where people can stockpile themselves, dry the abalone and look to sell the products later on, albeit at a potentially lower price. Although it may arguably be less in the public eye than other forms of environmental crime in South Africa, the illicit trade in abalone has had profound environmental and social costs in the country, often facilitated by supply chains involving drug barons, corrupt officials and other neighbouring states.


Another major environmental crime market is illegal logging (estimated to be worth between US$10 billion and 100 billion), which affects countries across the world, from Latin America, to Central Africa and East Asia. Illegal forest activities have increased in Guyana’s Iwokrama rainforest, according to the Iwokrama International Centre, which claims that people are taking advantage of the coronavirus situation. In response to the spate of illegal activity in the forest, the Centre have announced they will be introducing security cameras, the use of drones and a monitoring station.

On the other side of the Pacific, timber smugglers are increasingly active in Myanmar’s Bago Region. As a result of the national curfew imposed from 10 pm – later reduced to midnight – to 4 am, civil servants in Myanmar, like everyone, must follow the rules. Not only are loggers illegally felling trees in the region able to take advantage of the reduced patrols, but the restrictions on movement also mean that the ability to arrest the perpetrators is drastically impaired.

Deforestation has risen at an alarming rate in a number of other countries across the world, including Indonesia, Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC is the sixth most forested country in the world, estimated to contain as much as 8 per cent of all the carbon stored in the earth’s vegetation.  According to a study carried out by WWF Germany, satellite data of 18 countries shows that deforestation rose by 150 per cent in March compared to the 2017–2019 average for the same month. The organization’s head of nature conservation says that this indicates that the context of the pandemic has enabled ‘exploding rates’ of deforestation. The countries in the study are facing many of the same problems that have facilitated illegal forest activities in a number of other countries around the world, namely the diminished ability of authorities to patrol nature reserves and indigenous territories as a result of stay-at-home orders and other lockdown restrictions. 

There may have been many positive environmental consequences of humans’ reduced mobility and the commensurate drop-off in fossil fuel emissions during the period, but these are being outweighed by illicit logging, which is incurring far-reaching and irreparable harm to some of the world’s remaining natural forests, which are anchors of biodiversity and massive carbon reserves. 

Read more:

Experts in Kenya fear poaching, deforestation are surging during COVID-19 lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a break for nature – let’s make sure there is one after the crisis

Indonesia shelves plan to undermine legal timber exports under cover of coronavirus

As loggers exploit virus, Cambodian forest protectors defy state ban

Deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating despite coronavirus

#CovidCrimeWatch is curated by Lyes Tagziria.


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A finales de esta semana se cumplen cinco meses desde que una serie de casos de neumonía se presentaran en Wuhan y el nuevo coronavirus fuera identificado. Mientras se han reportado mas de 350 000 muertes confirmadas por COVID-19, datos sobre la mortalidad excesiva sugieren la probabilidad de que la cifra sea significativamente mayor. Sin embargo, más allá de la devastadora cifra de muertes y el enorme golpe económico que la respuesta a la crisis ha generado, la pandemia ha tenido un impacto considerable en el crimen organizado alrededor del mundo, con obstáculos y oportunidades para actores criminales en todas partes.

El newsletter de la semana pasada, llevó a nuestros lectores a un viaje virtual alrededor del mundo para explorar las interacciones entre el crimen organizado y la pandemia por COVID-19, desde Asia a Europa, el continente Americano, África y Medio Oriente. Exploramos la resiliencia del comercio de drogas en el este y sur de Asia, los ciberataques en el Reino Unido, el crecimiento del mercado negro de cigarros en Argentina, la falsificación de medicinas en un gran número de países africanos y el saqueo de piezas arqueológicas en el norte de África y Medio Oriente. Sin embargo, las historias sobre los sistemas penitenciarios y el abuso policial demuestran que las repercusiones del virus tienen mucho mayor alcance que el impacto en las economías criminales.

Desde que inició el brote de coronavirus, se ha prestado especial atención a su impacto en el tráfico de drogas a nivel global. Recientemente, GI-TOC publicó un documento de política pública al respecto, ‘Crisis and oportunity: Impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on ilicit drug markets’ (Crisis y oportunidad: Impacto de la pandemia por coronavirus en los mercados de sustancias ilegales). Menos prominente ha sido el análisis sobre las repercusiones de la pandemia en delitos ambientales. Esta semana, el #CovidCrimeWatch newsletter se enfoca en dos pilares del delito ambiental internacional: el tráfico de vida silvestre (IWT por sus siglas en inglés) y la tala ilegal. Con esta edición, el GI-TOC ha publicado también una serie de blogs relacionados a los delitos ambientales que exploran el rol de la governanza y la regulación, formas más pragmáticas de responder a los temas relacionados al delito ambiental, y el cambio de postura legislativa de China sobre el COVID-19 y las regulaciones sobre vida silvestre.



El comercio ilegal de productos derivados de vida silvestre a nivel global, está compuesto por tres grandes categorías. La primera, la caza furtiva de vida silvestre; la segunda, la venta y distribución, a menudo transfronteriza, de vida silvestre; y la tercera, la demanda de estos productos ilegales. Sobre esta última, un reporte de la Comisión de Justicia de la Vida Silvestre, encontró que la reducción significativa en la demanda de estos artículos en Camboya y Laos, es resultado de las restricciones de viaje que generaron una ausencia repentina de clientes chinos, por mucho la base más grande de consumidores de productos ilegales derivados de la vida silvestre. También se ha vuelto más complicado para quienes trafican con huevos o animales vivos, llevarlos consigo mismos como probablemente lo han hecho en ocasiones anteriores. Por lo tanto, en lo que se refiere al tráfico ilegal de productos derivados de la vida silvestre, pareciera que éste se ha visto afectado por muchos de los mismos impedimentos que han enfrentado otras economías ilícitas. Conforme se han restringido los vuelos y endurecido los controles fronterizos, se ha vuelto más difícil para los traficantes, exportar sus productos ilegales.

Si bien es cierto que la pandemia por coronavirus ha generado problemas en las últimas etapas de la cadena de distribución ilegal de vida silvestre, existe información mixta sobre las tendencias de la actividad ilegal en los países de origen. A pesar de los reportes sobre el incremento de la caza furtiva, particularmente de rinocerontes, en varios países africanos, como Botsuana y Sudáfrica, no es claro si realmente ha habido un aumento en general. El ministro sudafricano de Medio Ambiente, Silvicultura y Pesca, ha reportado una ‘disminución significativa’ en la caza ilegal de rinocerontes desde que las medidas de confinamiento se implementaron en el país. En abril, se registró el menor número mensual de rinocerontes cazados ilegalmente en el Parque Nacional Kruger, desde septiembre de 2013.

Una de las razones que pudiera explicar la disminución en la caza furtiva de rinocerontes es el trastorno, como se menciona arriba, en las últimas fases de la cadena de distribución. De hecho, el ministro declaró que ‘el cierre de nuestras fronteras y el paro total de vuelos internacionales, eliminó la forma que los grupos criminales utilizaban para traficar cuerno de rinoceronte a los países de paso y de consumo’. Sin embargo, hay que diferenciar entre el tráfico de alto valor, como cuerno de rinoceronte o marfil de elefante, y el de carne de caza, ya que ambas formas de actividad criminal tienen dinámicas distintas. Mientras que la caza furtiva de alto valor parece disminuir, la carne de caza ilegal bien podría ir en aumento, especialmente la caza furtiva de subsistencia.

Reportes en India sugieren que los cazadores furtivos de rinocerontes aprovechan la oportunidad para intensificar sus actividades y recorren los parques nacionales y santuarios protegidos. Un factor que parece haber facilitado el incremento en esta actividad es la drástica reducción en el número de denuncias locales, de las que dependen los oficiales. Sin embargo, estas “denuncias” provienen por lo general de redes establecidas de informantes que aún existen. Otros factores, resultado del confinamiento, incluyen el movimiento de animales vulnerables a la caza furtiva, cerca de zonas habitadas, y la disminución significativa del tráfico alrededor del Parque Nacional Kazaringa.

Es de esperar que los incidentes de caza furtiva que involucran a la megafauna normalmente asociada al tráfico ilegal de vida silvestre, como rinocerontes y elefantes, disminuyan por las razones arriba descritas, es decir, el trastorno en la distribución de los productos hacia los mercados consumidores. Incluso antes del brote de COVID-19, varios países ya experimentaban una disminución en los incidentes de caza furtiva e incluso había reportes de almacenamiento. La incapacidad de mover los productos fácilmente, pudiera exacerbar esta situación.

La pandemia por coronavirus también ha repercutido en el mercado negro de abulón en Sudáfrica. El mercado de abulón ilegal es una compleja red que involucra la pesca del molusco en peligro de extinción autóctono de Sudáfrica, y su trasporte principalmente a China y Hong Kong. Como resultado de la prohibición a la importación de vida silvestre implementada por china, esta actividad ilícita en el país más desigual de África se ha detenido y los precios han caído a la mitad.

Sin embargo, muchos de los que recurren a la pesca ilegal de abulón son empujados por la desesperación económica y, con las restricciones de movilidad que exacerban las dificultades financieras que enfrentan muchos sudafricanos, es muy probable que la pesca ilegal se reanude, e incluso se incremente, relativamente pronto. Esto puede ser particularmente cierto en redes bien establecidas que se caracterizan por los altos niveles de confianza entre sus miembros y en las que ellos mismos almacenan, secan y buscan vender el abulón, aunque los precios sean potencialmente bajos. Aunque posiblemente sea menos público que otros delitos ambientales en Sudáfrica, el tráfico ilegal de abulón ha tenido profundos costos ambientales y sociales en el país, a menudo ocasionados por las cadenas de distribución en manos de capos de la droga, oficiales corruptos y otros estados vecinos.


Otro delito ambiental importante es la tala ilegal (con un valor estimado de entre 10 mil y 100 mil millones de dólares), que afecta países en todo el mundo, desde Latinoamérica hasta África central y el este de Asia. De acuerdo al Centro Internacional Iwokrama, los delitos forestales se han incrementado en el bosque de Iwokrama, en Guyana, y la gente aprovecha la situación provocada por el coronavirus. En respuesta al incremento de actividad ilegal en el bosque, el Centro ha anunciado la introducción de cámaras de seguridad, el uso de drones y una estación de monitoreo.

Al otro lado del Pacífico, los contrabandistas de madera han incrementado su actividad en la región de Bago, en Myanmar. Como resultado del toque de queda nacional impuesto de 10 pm, que después se redujo a media noche, a 4 am, los funcionaros, como el resto de la población, deben seguir las reglas. Ante esta situación, los taladores no solo pueden aprovechar la falta de vigilancia, sino que las restricciones de movimiento también entorpecen drásticamente las posibilidades de arrestarlos.

La deforestación, por su parte, ha crecido a niveles alarmantes en otros países alrededor del mundo, como Indonesia, Brasil y la República Democrática del Congo. La RDC es el sexto país más boscoso en el mundo y se estima que contiene tanto como el 8 porciento de todo el carbón almacenado en la vegetación terrestre. De acuerdo a un estudio llevado a cabo por WWF Alemania, datos de 18 países muestran que la deforestación creció en marzo un 150 porciento comparado con el promedio de 2017 – 2019 para el mismo mes. El jefe de conservación natural de la organización, sostiene que esto indica que el contexto de la pandemia ha permitido ‘tasas muy altas’ de deforestación. Los países considerados en el estudio enfrentan muchos de los problemas que han facilitado la tala ilegal en otras partes, como la disminución en la capacidad de las autoridades para patrullar reservas naturales y territorios indígenas, resultado de las órdenes de confinamiento y otras medidas restrictivas.

Pueden existir muchas consecuencias ambientales positivas por la reducción de la movilidad y la importante caída en las emisiones de combustibles fósiles durante este periodo, pero estas son rebasadas por la tala ilegal, que representa un daño recurrente e irreparable en algunos de los bosques naturales restantes del mundo, que son anclas de la biodiversidad y reservas masivas de carbón.

Leer más:

Experts in Kenya fear poaching, deforestation are surging during COVID-19 lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a break for nature – let’s make sure there is one after the crisis

Indonesia shelves plan to undermine legal timber exports under cover of coronavirus

As loggers exploit virus, Cambodian forest protectors defy state ban

Deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating despite coronavirus

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Lyes Tagziria

Lyes joined the Global Initiative as a Research Assistant in October 2017 and since then his primary focus has been the Organized Crime Index. The Organized Crime Index for Africa was launched in September 2019 and Lyes is the Research Coordinator for the Global Organized Crime Index 2021. He has also contributed to numerous other projects at the Global Initiative, including the launch of the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Index in January 2019. Since March 2020, Lyes has been the curator of the Global Initiative’s #CovidCrimeWatch newsletters, which explore existing and emerging interactions between COVID-19 and the illicit economy around the globe.
Lyes has a BA in Politics and Economics from Newcastle University and a MSc in Security Studies from University College London (UCL), where his thesis focused on the impact of the balance of power in civil wars on state actors’ decision to deliberately target civilians. His research interests include measuring organised crime using quantitative methods, Italian organised crime groups and, more recently, the possible impact of Brexit on organised criminal activity. Holding dual British-Algerian nationality and having grown up in Italy, Lyes is fluent in English, French and Italian. His Spanish is a work in progress.
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