26 August 2014

Book review: The UN's Lone Ranger by John M. Sellar

In April, I attended a Conference on the EU Approach Against Wildlife Trafficking (in fact, I watched it live on web stream because I could not manage to get an invitation).

For me it was the first Conference on wildlife traffic and I sat there for the whole day listening very carefully and absorbing every single word, every opinion, and every story.

When Mr. John M. Sellar took the floor I was totally unaware of who he was or what he was going to say. His first statements made quite an impression on me: first, he reminded the audience that 2 UNODC consultants had been assassinated that very week in the exercise of their duties; second he said that the war against wildlife traffic was being lost. Certainly a brave thing to do, starting a speech based on pure and harsh reality. I am more used to openings where the speaker tries to see the silver lighting and highlights the good things that have been done to tackle whatever the problem at stake is. Mr. Sellar did quite the opposite, and I guess he put words to something that many people are thinking but dare not say: the war is being lost.

His speech, full of ideas on how to effectively address some of the issues, could not have me prepared for what was coming next: 

This is a 200-page book written by Mr. Sellar himself who, as all of you know, worked during 14 years on CITES Enforcement issues, retiring as CITES Chief of Enforcement in 2011.

With so many years of experience, the book is a compendium of real stories that happened to the author while in service. These stories deal with every itchy aspect that comes with illegal traffic: corruption, manipulation, exploitation of local communities, terrorism, organised crime, lack of political will, ignorance, need for capacity building, bureaucracy…but also motivation, hard work, inspiration, passion and cooperation. I particularly enjoyed it because it is full of substance and short of blabla. Each one of the 15 Chapters goes directly to the point, and is filled with never-ending facts, is descriptive and very informative

At the same time, the stories that come and go through its pages are not only entertaining but above all they are enlightening: from the organised crime surrounding the (illegal) trade of caviar to the lack of technical capacity of law enforcement officials in countries like India or Bangladesh, touching upon the Ivory and Rhino crisis, this book has cleared up my mind on how wildlife trafficking looks through the eyes of a UN officer who had the chance of being everywhere and seeing everything. It is not everyday that one discovers a book like this. A valuable asset for anyone interested in the subject. Highly recommended.

Enjoy the evening!

PS: Picture used exclusively for the purposes of illustrating this post. 

Next book review: Wildlife Trafficking: a deconstruction of the crime, the victims and the offenders by Dr. Tanya Wyatt.

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