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Environmental crime wave costs world billions

NAIROBI — The illegal cutting of timber and the poaching of elephants and rhinos are part of an increasingly sophisticated and organized crime wave that international governments must combat by boosting cooperation, police and environmental officials said Wednesday.

Interpol and the United Nations Environmental Program are working together to stop environmental crimes that cost tens of billions of dollars a year, said Achim Steiner, the program’s executive director. Some 500 law enforcement and environmental experts from around the world are meeting in Nairobi this week to address the problem.

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‘‘This is a global phenomenon. This is a global marketplace. These are global syndicates, criminals that are engaging in this trade,’’ said Steiner, who labeled the problem ‘‘a rapidly escalating environmental crime wave.’’

The demand for ivory by China’s rising middle class is fueling the deaths of thousands of elephants across Africa, say experts. An estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa in 2011, according to the UN group.

Officials in China this week reported busting two smuggling rings responsible for trafficking nearly $100 million worth of elephant ivory from Africa, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

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