The UN’s Lone Ranger – a review

The cover of John Sellar's new book

The cover of John Sellar’s new book

The UN’s Lone Ranger : Combating international wildlife crime

This book, by John M Sellar, a senior police officer of over two decades experience, who then served as Deputy, then Chief of Enforcement of the Secretariat for CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, tells of his work over the 14 years in that role. Unlike in his earlier role in the north-east of Scotland, John had none of the powers of search and arrest associated with policing. His role was to inspect and establish how well countries were complying with the conditions of the CITES convention, and to make recommendations, including how to improve enforcement and how to improve conservation.

John visited 60 countries, looking at the trade, both legal and illegal, in such critically endangered species as Tibetan antelope, sturgeon, tiger, elephant and rhino. Shockingly, what he found was that the regulation and enforcement in place was frequently hopelessly inadequate. In many cases organised crime groups had ensured that their poaching continued almost unhindered through the exploitation of native people with great knowledge of the species and the habitat but who were living on the breadline and prepared to risk their life for a fraction of the end value of the species poached. Officials at border controls seemed easily bribed by the criminals and often turned a blind eye to the passage of smuggled body parts, such as skins, tusks, horn and caviar. The term ‘corruption’ cropped up throughout the book, and clearly extended to many individuals in positions of great power, including within the judicial process.

The book is written, ‘warts and all’, to show that in many case, despite the CITES convention, little is improving to safeguard some of the world’s most endangered species. Poorly resourced patrols in Africa cannot cover the vast areas over which elephants are slaughtered for ivory or rhino for their horns, sturgeon have been vastly over-fished in the Caspian Sea, the use of informants seems almost non-existent, sharing of intelligence is extremely poor, and even when receiving intelligence, investigative authorities do not always respond effectively – or at all. Further, staff of agencies of the United Nations who had any background in practical enforcement was in the minority.

Even for someone like me who has worked on the investigation of crime for nearly half a century, this book is an eye-opener. Most will be shocked at the lack of tangible progress in stemming the tide of illegal wildlife trade and the blatantly open sale of protected species in some countries where authorities either turn a blind eye or are unaware of the relevant legislation. The author’s unique knowledge of international wildlife trade is set out in an easy-to-read style, with anecdotes drawing on his Scottish policing background. This is a book that should be read by everyone involved in – or even with an interest in – wildlife conservation. It should also flag up to the world the very real risk of imminent extinctions.

The UN’s Lone Ranger: combating international wildlife crime.    £18.99  Whittles Publishing
Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland, KW6 6EG, UK.

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