Wildlife trafficking continues virtually unabated

Wildlife trafficking is taking place across at least 162 countries, and affecting around 4,000 species, according to the latest World Wildlife Crime Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna on 13th May.

A young cheetah pictured inside a travel crate

This third edition of the report examined the scale of wildlife trafficking during the period 2015-2021, the impacts and harms to species conservation, and the effects this has on the stability of the wider ecosystems to which those species belong.  

While there are indications that some progress is being made to reduce the poaching and trafficking of some iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, the report gives no confidence that wildlife trafficking overall is being reduced. It concludes that interventions to reduce wildlife trafficking need to be prioritised and more strategic, and that criminal justice responses should be modernised, strengthened and harmonised, from source to end markets.

Responding to the news, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones, who is in Vienna for the meeting at which the report was launched, said: “This report is sobering, if not unexpected. The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, released back in 2019, rated overexploitation of species, including through wildlife trafficking, as the second most important driver of wildlife decline. Wildlife trafficking has devastating impacts on the welfare of millions of affected animals. Their removal from their wild populations also disrupts the functionality of the natural world, with consequences for all the services it provides, such as clean air, clean water, food, medicine and the mitigation of climate change. Ultimately, our own economies and societies suffer and break down as a result.”

The report acknowledges that wildlife trafficking is often coordinated by organised criminal groups, fuelling corruption and further undermining good governance and the rule of law.
As a founding member of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, Born Free has been at the forefront of efforts to persuade governments of the serious nature of wildlife trafficking, and the need for wildlife crime to be treated as a serious crime.

Dr Jones continued: “For the past four years we’ve been campaigning for the development of a global agreement on tackling wildlife crime under the auspices of the UNODC, to bring it into the purview of the international criminal justice system. If we are to successfully break the cycle of wildlife trafficking, we need governments and enforcement authorities to prioritise the problem and work together to dismantle the criminal networks that perpetrate these crimes. Wildlife trafficking is not a victimless crime – animals, the natural world and ultimately people suffer as a result. It’s high time the global community joins forces to bear down on this scourge.”

Born Free is co-hosting an event in Vienna, alongside the Governments of Angola and Peru, the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, the Wildlife Justice Commission, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, to highlight the potential for an international agreement on tackling wildlife trafficking in the form of a protocol under the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime.