Illegal Wildlife Trade

Illegal Wildlife Trade

lllegal wildlife trade (IWT) is here defined as trade in wildlife or wildlife parts, derivatives, or by-products that violates either international legal frameworks or the national legislation of affected countries, thereby encompassing both domestic laws and CITES regulations. It comprises wild species of fauna and flora, excluding illegal fishing and logging. IWT encompasses the entire illegal supply chain of wildlife crime, thereby including activities such as illegally killing or poaching, transporting, smuggling, exchanging, selling, purchasing, and possessing wild fauna and flora. This further includes the various forms of money laundering, corruption, and marketing of illicit goods necessary for these transactions to occur. This definition is based on and was adapted from Haenlein and Smith, 2016; OECD, 2019; and TRAFFIC, 2020.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that IWT has become by now the fourth largest illegal trade worldwide after arms, drugs and human trafficking. This overexploitation of our resources can have far-reaching and dire consequences: With shrinking biodiversity, the balance of ecosystems is affected, which in turn will impact human well-being. Impacts of IWT further comprise government losses on revenues and taxes, as well as a compromised national security, as some studies pointed out that insurgency groups finance their activities from proceeds originating from IWT. Therefore, combatting IWT requires several levers to efficiently enact counter-measures. Some of these concern closing loopholes in national legislation and introducing proportionate penalties. Others aim to strengthen law enforcement and to fight corruption. And then there are interventions that introduce alternative means of income to wean people away from poaching and raise awareness among stakeholders on the importance of the species traded illegally. Whereas all of these measures are valid, each IWT hotspot requires a different combination of these approaches, considering the local context. Above all, combatting IWT cannot take place in isolation. International collaboration and the transboundary exchange of information are crucial to stop this crime.

To combat IWT at the international level, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The Convention has currently 183 Parties and lists over 38,500 species of plants and animals in its three Appendices, each granting species certain levels of protection and requiring permits and other documentation for their lawful trade.

Although CITES is indeed an important instrument to regulate this trade, it is important to keep in mind that the Convention faces certain limitations. CITES is foremost a trade agreement, and, as such, does e.g. not require IWT to be criminalized, and does neither regulate domestic trade, nor apply to poaching. This is one of the reasons why a platform to this effect, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) was established in 2010, whose partners, next to CITES, are INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization. Two of the key ICCWC tools developed to assist governments in effectively assessing and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their response to wildlife crime, including enforcement, are the Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit and the Indicator Framework for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. Another approach taken is advocating for the adoption of a 4th Protocol on wildlife crime under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC),  an effort led by the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime.

A peregrine falcon, one of the species seized from a notorious wildlife trafficker in Manila in 2019. Source: Emerson Y. Sy

Best Practices of Counter-IWT Projects in selected Countries

Combating IWT requires context and country specific solutions, assessing the challenges at hand and providing solutions that build on existing policies and legislation as well as take into consideration local history, beliefs, and traditions. In this fight against IWT, many countries have developed into role models, showcasing best practices that can inform counter-IWT activities in other countries facing similar issues. Featured below are some best practices of countries implementing counter-IWT projects in the context of the Global Wildlife Program (GWP), which is a World Bank-led, GEF-funded global partnership, combating illicit trafficking in wildlife by promoting wildlife conservation and sustainable development. Phase I was approved in 2015 with a USD131 million grant, which was increased by a USD82 million grant for Phase II in 2019. By approaching the poaching crisis holistically through 37 projects across 32 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the GWP seeks to reduce both the supply and demand that drives IWT, thus combating wildlife poaching, trafficking, and demand to protect species and habitats. Read more about the activities these countries shared by clicking on the flags.