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What Are 'Wildlife Crimes' And How Are Criminals Punished?

Published by Connor Wesson on April 27, 2022

For far too long, international wildlife crimes have been a relatively low risk, high reward business. Organized criminals operating transnationally have utilized corruption to bypass laws and succeed in leading thousands of species towards extinction. It is time to put an end to these crimes.

A white rhino is temporarily captured and dehorned to prevent poaching. (Credit: CTN News)
Defining 'Wildlife Crime'

Leading international efforts to crack down on wildlife crime is ICCWC, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime.

"The mission of ICCWC is to usher in a new era where perpetrators of serious wildlife and forest crime will face a formidable and coordinated response, rather than the present situation where the risk of detection and punishment is all too low" (ICCWC).

Organized wildlife crime networks are as complex as the illegal drug and human trafficking trades. The ICCWC is the joint effort of five inter-governmental agencies to coordinate national and regional wildlife crime prevention efforts at all levels.

‘Wildlife crime’ refers to the taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products, in contravention of national or international law. - CITES
A graph detailing the ratio of flora and fauna seizures between 1999-2018. (Credit: UNODC)

Illegal Wildlife Crime: Terms to Know
  • Flora - the plants of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

  • Fauna - the animals that live in a particular area, time period, or environment.

  • CITES - Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species

  • UNODC - United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

  • Ivory - the hard creamy-white modified dentine that composes the tusks of a tusked mammal (such as an elephant, walrus, or narwhal)


The Struggle For Accountability

Serious wildlife crimes are fueled by corruption, posing a danger to public health, wildlife, local communities, global economies, and entire ecosystems. Currently, the transnational illegal wildlife trade is worth nearly 199 billion dollars annually.

Due to rampant corruption, wildlife crimes have often been overlooked and perpetrators avoid the justice system. Global intelligence agencies work with precision and research to gather resources about potential targets, trade routes, and ongoing crimes.

Other challenges faces by world governments in the fight against organized wildlife crime include:

  • Poor governance: inadequate interest by governments in bringing justice to a wildlife crime

  • Limited finances: due to rampant corruption at various levels, money allocated by governments for controlling wildlife crime never really reaches the intended receivers.

  • Lack of training: officers and members of varying task forces are unaware of how to properly respond to an ongoing wildlife crime. Ex. When a live animal is confiscated at an airport.

  • Difficulty assessing: wildlife crimes go unnoticed or ignored due to a lack of awareness by locals, officials, and investigators.

A Pangolin, the world's most trafficked mammal peering through a cage after being rescued. (Credit: Getty Images)
Efforts to End Illegal Wildlife Crime

While legislation banning illegal wildlife crime is a step in the right direction, it is nothing but smoke cover for government officials unless direct action is taken.

In 2020, China announced that they were "Comprehensively Prohibiting the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals, Eliminating the Bad Habits of Wild Animal Consumption and Protecting the Health and Safety of the People". But this action has not stopped the Chinese pangolin, a scaly anteater native to China, from becoming the world's most trafficked mammal.

The ICCWC published their ideal eight outcomes of an effective law enforcement response to wildlife crime. This assessment is for use of other organizations or governmental forces to utilize in their own wildlife crime investigations. A few of these outcomes highlight the prosecution of wildlife crime:

  • Wildlife crime is prosecuted in accordance with the severity of the crime.

  • Wildlife crime offenders are appropriately penalized.

  • Specialized investigation techniques are used to combat wildlife crime as required.

The war against organized international wildlife crime is ongoing. Some of the most important ways the public can help fight wildlife crime is by being aware of what these crimes look like and educating themselves on who to contact locally.

  • If you see an ongoing or past wildlife crime in California, you can call 888 334-2258 to report the crime to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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