Wildlife crime: describing the phenomenon

There are various definitions of “wildlife crime”. For example, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines it as "harvesting and trade contrary to national [and international] laws”. Wildlife crimes can be categorized differently, for instance, based on the motivations of the crime, the species targeted, and the methods used. National regulations may use a combination of these categorizations when describing these offences. This overview page provides a non-exhaustive list of wildlife crimes and some of the wildlife crime categorizations in use, which follow the scope of the SWiPE project. Due to this, there are some overlaps between the phenomena described by these categories.

Other wildlife crimes

The LIFE SWiPE project focuses on certain wildlife crimes. However, other activities outside our project scope can also seriously harm protected species.  

Illegal logging

Harvesting of timber in contravention of the laws and regulations of the country of harvest constitutes illegal logging. Illegal logging has diverse environmental consequences, including deforestation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. It also harms the society economically, with loss of revenues sometimes linked to corrupt management systems. Additionally, illegal logging has other severe negative social impacts, for example, causing land and resource conflicts, harming local and indigenous communities, and even leading to armed conflicts. In Romania, the scale of this crime is escalating, and according to estimates, around half of all timber was illegally logged in 2020. In Ukraine, the forest control system is not functioning correctly, and corruption is reportedly widespread concerning logging. The illegal timber trade is also an example of how illegal activities could undermine the efforts of responsible operators and threaten sustainable and legal trade.

Illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing

IUU fishing is a threat to the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. It occurs when a fishing vessel is carrying out activities in conflict with the conservation and management measures applicable in the area concerned. Sometimes it is associated with organised crime. IUU fishing could take place on the high seas and in areas within national jurisdiction. Examples of IUU fishing include fishing without a valid permission, misreported or unreported fishing activities, fishing in a closed area, beyond a closed depth or during a closed season, and fishing in areas or for fish stocks in a manner that is breaching the conservation provisions deriving from international law. (The LIFE SWiPE project only focuses on illegal and non-selective catching.) Find more about how the EU tackles this problem here.

Habitat destruction

Within the European Union, actions which cause the significant deterioration of habitat within a protected site constitute a crime when committed intentionally or with at least serious negligence. However, these crimes are not covered by the LIFE SWiPE project. For example, we do not analyse destructive fires in protected areas, which harm the ecosystem in general. Nevertheless, these crimes also pose a significant threat to conservation efforts and protected species.  

© Shutterstock / Alex Post / WWF

© James Morgan / WWF-US


Related EU LIFE projects tackling wildlife crime

The LIFE Programme of the European Union has funded other projects fighting against different forms of wildlife crime. These include: 

The LIFE Natura Guardians project improves the efficiency and effectiveness of actions to combat environmental crimes in Portugal and Spain, especially those committed against wildlife. 

The LIFE Balkan Detox project raises awareness and strengthens national capacities to fight the problem of wildlife poisoning in the Balkans, which is one of the most important causes of mortality and population decline for numerous threatened and endangered species. 

The LIFE Themis project helps prosecutors and interrogative authorities be familiar with the competencies and the protection status of the protected areas in Crete.  

The LIFE Euro Large Carnivores project improves coexistence with large carnivores in Europe through communication, cross-border cooperation and knowledge exchange. 

The LIFE LivestockProtect project intends to improve livestock protection for the direct benefit of wolf conservation in the German-speaking Alpine Region. 

The LIFE Flight for Survival project reinforces the international work against the illegal killing, trapping and trading of wild birds, thus contributing to the elimination of the second largest threat to wild bird survival and delivering towards the implementation of the EU Bird Directive. 

The LIFE Imperial Eagle project aims to decrease human-caused mortality of the globally endangered imperial eagle birds with conservation actions in the Pannonian Region. 

The LIFE EuroKite project ensures cross-border protection of the Red Kite in Europe, endangered due to illegal persecution, by reducing human-caused mortality.