The new report, called "The Environmental Crime Crisis," says that between 20,000 and 25,000 African elephants are killed every year, with an estimated $165 million to $188 million in ivory going to Asia. (Related: "Beloved African Elephant Killed for Ivory—'Monumental' Loss.")
The trade in rhinoceros horn, meanwhile, has an estimated value of between $63.8 million and $192 million. Although fewer than 50 rhinos were poached in 2007, that number rose to over 1,000 in 2013.
But Nellemann, who served as editor in chief of the report, says illegal timber trading is likely growing even more rapidly, with "forest crime" estimated to be worth between $30 billion and $100 billion annually and representing as much as 30 percent of the global timber trade.
Investigators also physically counted trucks carrying timber.
"The official export for one country in Africa is maybe one or two loads per year," Nellemann said in an interview. Yet "we have photos of hundreds of trucks passing borders."
Approximately 90 percent of wood consumed in Africa is used for fuel and charcoal. Illegal charcoal is also being exported to several Middle Eastern nations like Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.
Exports from Somalia alone are estimated at $360 million to $384 million per year, with up to $56 million supporting al Shabaab (the group responsible for the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Kenya last year), according to the new report.
Most member state delegates to the United Nations Environment Assembly hadn't reviewed the data, but some expressed surprise at the new numbers, given the recent efforts to curb environmental crime in recent years.
Budi Susanti said the international community needs to focus oncertification programs.
"We have regulations, but we need to inform the consumers," she said. "If buyers won't buy the products that aren't sustainable, there won't be demand."
But Nellemann said that consumer awareness "is not enough."
"It might be the long-term solution," he said. "But in the shorter [term], you need to allocate resources to provide protection on the front line and stop criminal networks from increasing."
source: nationalgeographic.com Carmen Russell in Nairobi