Illegal wildlife trade has become one of the ‘world’s largest criminal activities’

Environmental and wildlife crime has become one of the world’s largest and most profitable crime sectors and continues to grow as it pushes many species to the brink of extinction, warned INTERPOL at the United for Wildlife Summit.

With the black market for illegal wildlife products worth up to USD 20 billion per year, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade has become a major area of activity for organized crime groups and is increasingly linked with armed violence, corruption and other forms of organized crime.

Poaching and the trade in illegal wildlife is not just damaging the environment and killing at-risk species, but is costing the life of wildlife enforcement officers, with up to 100 rangers killed by poachers annually while protecting wildlife in their natural habitats.

This context underpins today’s agreement at the United for Wildlife Summit between The Royal Foundation and INTERPOL on future joint efforts to protect endangered species from illegal wildlife trafficking.

A signing ceremony on future collaboration between The Royal Foundation and INTERPOL included Lord Hague of Richmond, Co-Chair of United for Wildlife (centre left), INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services Stephen Kavanagh (centre right), Rory Corcoran (first right), INTERPOL’s Head of Section, IFCACC (INTERPOL Centre Against Financial Crime and Corruption), INTERPOL’s Operations Coordinator for Wildlife Crime, David Karanja Migwi (first left), and Head of United for Wildlife, Robert Campbell (second left).

Rt Hon. Lord Hague of Richmond, Co-Chair of United for Wildlife, said:

“Criminal syndicates trafficking in illegal wildlife products conduct their clandestine operation across international borders, causing incalculable damage to biodiversity and communities in the process. International law enforcement cooperation is critical in United for Wildlife’s mission to make the illegal trade in wildlife impossible.

“INTERPOL has been a longstanding partner of United for Wildlife for many years and we are thrilled that, through this Letter of Intent, we can work more closely, more collaboratively and be more coordinated in pursuit of bringing this global criminal enterprise to an end.”

Transnational organized criminal groups exploit wildlife across the globe, affecting vulnerable communities, jeopardizing public health and threatening the world’s natural resources.

INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services, Stephen Kavanagh, said:

“Over a decade of INTERPOL engagement, wildlife crime has become one of the world’s largest criminal activities. We have seen that wildlife crime relies on armed violence, corruption and is intertwined with financial crimes, ranging from money laundering to the financing of other forms of transnational organized crime.

“Considering the scale and value of illegal wildlife trade internationally, financial and transport data is crucial to fighting wildlife trafficking. Our efforts with the members of United for Wildlife taskforces in these areas underlines the need for partnerships to make the world’s environment safer from predators.”

INTERPOL assists its 195 member countries in raising awareness on abuses of national and international regulations. It also enhances their investigative and analytical capabilities leading to decisive enforcement actions such as the series of Operation Thunder.  

Since 2017 INTERPOL has mobilized law enforcement authorities from across more than 100 member countries in coordinated Thunder actions against the illegal wildlife trade, leading to thousands of seizures and arrests across the globe.