The Importance of Convergence in Tackling Environmental Crime
The Trafficking of Jaguar Parts and Shark Fins in the Americas: Applying A Convergence Framework to Environmental Crime
Operation Jaguar and Operation Stella Maris are two of Earth League International's most i
mportant ongoing operations in the Americas and Asia. On the surface, these two operations have different origins, addressing two different issues: Operation Jaguar is the most important intelligence-gathering operation onjaguar trafficking from Latin America to China, in collaboration with IUCN Netherlands and funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.
Operation Stella Maris is the first Pan-American intelligence-gathering operation on shark fin trafficking from Latin America to Asia and the United States, aimed at identifying all of the highest-level shark fin traffickers in Latin America and their trafficking networks.
These operations were designed to gather information about distinct trafficking networks involved in the illegal trade of two different kinds of wildlife products: jaguar fangs and bones (to be sold in China as tiger parts) and shark fins. Yet, the most impactful finding of these operations is the discovery that these trafficking networks substantially overlap - the same high-level players using their expansive resources/networks to traffic multiple species internationally.
This evidence speaks to a core principle of our work- Convergence.Convergence refers to the merging and blending of an ever-expanding array of illicit actors and criminal networks (Miklaucic & Brewer, 2013). Despite being widely recognized as one of the largest forms of transnational organized crime, environmental crime has been primarily treated as an environmental/conservation issue, failing to be properly contextualized within the broader framework of convergence.
ELI’s Operations Jaguar and Stella Maris provide concrete evidence of convergence and gather directly from transnational organized crime networks and their associates. Through our work, ELI has defined, instituted, and analyzed a suite of 4 Convergence “Types” based on the first-hand empirical data from our operations. We conceptualize four types of convergence: 1) Multiple Species Convergence 2) Multiple Environmental Crime Convergence 3) Multiple Crime Convergence 4) Transnational Network Convergence.
The first, Multiple Species Convergence, refers to networks that traffic multiple species (Figure 1). For example, within Operation Jaguar and Operation Stella Maris, a trafficking network operating out of Suriname and Guyana was found to engage in the procurement and selling of both jaguars and sharks.
The second, Multiple Environmental Crime Convergence, involves the same traffickers/networks engaging in wildlife crime plus the trafficking of other natural resources, such as illegal logging, illegal mining, and illegal fishing. For example, as part of Operation Stella Maris, ELI identified a powerful criminal network which engages in the trafficking of shark fins alongside illegal logging.
These operations also provide evidence of Multiple Crime Convergence, in which the same traffickers/networks engage in other serious crimes such as human smuggling, money laundering, and drug trafficking. As part of Operation Jaguar, ELI’s intelligence identified criminal convergence within a network operating across Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and China. This network engages in both the trafficking of jaguar parts and money laundering, the process of disguising financial assets so they can be used without detection of the illegal activity that produced them.
The fourth type, Transnational Network Convergence, describes the overlap of transnational organized criminal networks and their activities. For example, within Operation Jaguar and Operation Stella Maris, various traffickers and their networks collaborate to engage in the transnational trafficking of jaguar and shark fins, as well as, in other serious crimes. Network convergence is multileveled, as these criminal networks have intentionally created a variety of regional, interregional, and transnational points of connection to strengthen their criminal activities. The intelligence we gather regarding the various types of convergence is a critical component of effectively stopping environmental crime, as it provides government and law enforcement authorities with multiple forms of actionable intelligence to effectively intervene and destroy these trafficking networks. After analyzing information from various sources. ELI produces and shares Confidential Intelligence Briefs (CIBs) with relevant law enforcement and government agencies, including in the United States.
These briefs support their work by transferring knowledge about criminal wildlife supply chains, including identifying high-level traffickers and various Persons of Interests, as well as, addressing the information gap related to critical points of convergence. This information allows relevant stakeholders to use different laws to bring charges for a variety of crimes. One of ELI’s CIBs as used by Bolivian authorities to arrests five jaguar/wildlife Chinese traffickers in October 2021.
In summary, ELI’s intelligence provides empirical evidence related to the existence, degree, and scope of environmental crime convergence. It illustrates the need for non-governmental organizations, conservationists, government agencies, and law enforcement authorities to conceptualize and address environmental crime as a cross-cutting criminal activity, rarely occurring in isolation.
ELI understands that for wildlife, the environment, and communities to survive, we must further develop and utilize a convergence-led approach, understanding the multiplicity of overlaps that exist within international trafficking networks.
Deville, D., Miklaucic, M., & Brewer, J. (2013). Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization.