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.

Illegal wildlife trade

Wildlife trade is the sale or exchange of any wild animal and plant resources by people. While a lot of this trade is legal and sustainable, some of the trade is illegal. Where animal and plant species are heavily exploited for trade, their populations can be depleted, in particular when other factors, such as habitat loss, also threaten them.

Illegal wildlife trade is one of the main causes contributing to species extinction.  In addition, the illegal wildlife trade can also result in the introduction of invasive species and the spreading of zoonotic diseases. Wildlife is traded for various reasons, in response to a wide range of demands.

Many exotic animals are sought after as pets; some species are important sources of traditional medicine; some others are simply sources of food. Wildlife (e.g., timber) is also being used as building material. Ornaments can be carved from ivory and leather goods made from protected species are sold as luxury items; and the list goes on.

Illegal wildlife trade affects live specimens as well as wildlife derivatives and products. There is evidence of some forms of wildlife trafficking being connected to organised crime and corruption. Wildlife trafficking can disrupt the legal and sustainable trade of wildlife and threaten biological diversity, which is critical to planetary functioning. Therefore, trade in endangered species is regulated nationally and internationally, and it can constitute a crime to illegally trade protected animals or plants.