Blood Money
by Daniel Boyco

According to the International Criminal Police Organization-Interpol (ICPO-Interpol), which has a membership of 178 countries, wildlife trafficking has become the second largest form of black market commerce on the planet, behind drug dealing and ahead of illegal arms sales. Raymond E. Kendal of ICPO-Interpol reports that, "Africa, South and Central America and Asia are the main producers while Europe, North America and the Middle and Far East are main consumers." In the shadowy world of the illicit wildlife trade, Alberta ranks as both a producer and a consumer.

As we lounge in front of our television sets watching programs set in the African jungle or the Amazon rainforest, it's easy to overlook the fact that Alberta has its own share of players in this underground marketplace. They may not be dealing in exotic spotted cats or endangered reptiles, but the locals have ready access to a homegrown list of wild commodities that is substantial and lucrative. Merchandise such as meat for the table, fish for restaurants, trophy heads for collectors and bear gall bladders for traditional medicines feed these networks and, as the demand escalates, the prices soar. This places excessive demands on our natural treasures and taps the human and technical resources required to stop it.

Maria Hauck, writing for her Master's Thesis for the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, reports that, "The illegal exploitation of natural resources is a critical socio-political and economic problem in developing countries. Therefore, in order to develop broad based strategies of intervention, the underlying dynamics of the problem must be investigated and understood."

Although Canada is not a developing country, we are not immune to the problems associated with poaching for profit. If we intend to develop our own strategies of intervention, we must first acknowledge that it exists right here in our own backyard.

Blood money attracts a web of players that extends from the bush country of northern Alberta to the herbalist's counter in the South Pacific and from the shallow bays of our lakes to the steamy seafood kitchens of uptown West Coast. It all begins right here, and the deal is as likely to take place over the tailgate of an old pick-up truck as it is in a foreign country on the other side of the planet.

Albertans have seen first hand the results of declining walleye populations, diminished hunting opportunities and strained enforcement budgets, revealing to us that the proximity of the situation does not diminish its significance.

There was a time not long ago that a hefty fine for trafficking in wildlife was a rare occurrence. Nowadays a stiff jail sentence is the more likely outcome. Why the change? An evolution is taking place as the world becomes smaller and the black market in wildlife grows. Officers are becoming more effective in their quest for poachers; prosecutors are taking a greater interest; new legislation reflects the severity of the offence and the judiciary views it for what it is, a theft of a precious natural heritage in exchange for blood and money.

Daniel Boyco is a member of the Conservation Officers Association of Alberta in Edmonton