The complexity and gravity of the problem

The involvement, for some time now, of a number of UN bodies and other international and national organisations and entities in the combating of wildlife crime provides ample evidence that the illegal trade in fauna and flora is no longer considered as an emerging issue. Instead, it has become a massive global industry worth billions of dollars annually and well integrated within the illicit economies that drive organised crime, international terrorism, and violent conflicts/8 In taking these developments into account, as well as the seriousness of the threat they pose to the security, environment, and sustainable development of many countries, it has been noted that the ‘pace, level of sophistication and globalised nature of wildlife and forest crime is beyond the capacity of many countries and individual organisations to address’^9 As a result there is a gap between commitments and compliance that needs to be narrowed.

The nature of the trafficking supply chain poses serious obstacles for enforcement agencies. Although trafficking organisations must often source, transport, and sell their contraband along a complex supply chain that crosses borders and oceans, from remote corners in Africa to retail markets in Asia, they have succeeded in consolidating and professionalizing their operations. In the illegal ivory trade alone transnational organised crime networks trafficked as much as 170 tons of ivory between 2009 and 2014, which, according to reports, could amount to as many as 229,729 elephants/0 Studies have shown that networks of this kind are tied together by a large number of facilitators in a global distribution chain made up of an almost infinite number of poachers in remote areas in Africa, illicit mineral transporters, freight forwarding companies, shipping agents, politicians, and merchants operating mainly in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

The methods used to facilitate the illicit trade in wildlife products also illustrate the complexity of the problem and the sophistication of the criminal networks. The trade commonly involves the mixing of legal and illegal harvesting of resources, the forgery of documents, the hacking of government websites to obtain forged permits, the establishing of shell companies, the bribing of corrupt government officials, and the laundering of contraband/2 Corruption seems to be of special concern in that it is considered a ‘deeply embedded feature of environmental crime’/3 At the same time these methods illustrate the wide range of measures member states will have to implement to effectively curb the illegal trade in wildlife products, which raises serious concerns about the capacity of some states to effectively combat wildlife crime, a matter that features frequently in CITES documentation and CoP meetings and that the UNODC is attempting to address with its Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit/4

Apart from capacity issues there is also the issue of discrepancies within and among national wildlife, forestry, criminal, and other laws. In this regard, the UNODC has concluded that:

[m]any countries do not, or do not yet, comprehensively criminalise the many activities involved in illegal trade in wild fauna and flora. In some jurisdictions, the criminal law does not adequately capture attempts at committing offences or participation in these offences. In addition, it may not contain special provisions for corruption and money-laundering in the wildlife and forestry sectors. Consequently, the reform of legal and regulatory systems becomes a prerequisite for combating wildlife and forest crime/5

  • [1] Ibid, 3lff.
  • [2] Nellemann et al., The Environmental Crime Crisis, cited in note 13 above, pp. 13 and 14.
  • [3] Ibid, p. 14.
  • [4] Available at, accessed 16 October 2015.
  • [5] 75 cited in note 73 above, p. 13.
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