“Today, wildlife trafficking is a sophisticated international enterprise, with low risks and high profits drawing in organized crime: Russian mobsters, Irish crime families, extremist organizations like Darfur’s janjaweed militias and Somalia’s Al Shabab, a terror group with ties to Al Qaeda.
These developments are putting wildlife crime on the agendas of policymakers and adding urgency to the efforts of the Ashland scientists. Recently, Ed Espinoza has been spending a lot of time thinking about wood. The illicit timber trade — the logging and trafficking of precious hardwoods from forests in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America — is a multibillion dollar industry. The huge profits have attracted violent criminal gangs, who are destabilizing the already precarious rule of law in developing countries. For law enforcement, the timber trade poses a vexing problem. Smugglers typically ship timber after it’s been milled, a process that obliterates morphological markers. How can illegal logging be stymied if the authorities are unable to distinguish legitimate wood products from contraband?”
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