Programme Report

Project: Africa Programme, African Peace and Security

Research Director, Area Studies and International Law; Head, Africa Programme
Katherine Lawson
Global impacts of the illegal wildlife tradePhoto by Ivy Allen/USFWS/flickr.


This report proposes the following options to investigate the ramifications of the illegal wildlife trade on political stability and security. Further critical examination of this dimension of the issue is urgently needed. These recommendations seek to encourage high-level political cooperation in order to formulate effective policies to counter the illegal wildlife trade through a targeted, collective response.

Gather empirical evidence on the actors involved in the illegal wildlife trade

1. Empirical evidence exploring what motivates armed non-state actors to engage in the illegal wildlife trade is lacking. Investigation is needed to understand how reliant these groups are on the ivory and rhino horn trades, and why they have turned to poaching to help sustain their activities. Further analysis is needed to examine how these groups would be affected if successful policies to deter the illegal wildlife trade were implemented. The possibility of these groups turning to other means of funding their activities must be explored, including involvement in other forms of transnational crime.

Analyse the long-term political and security implications of the wildlife trade

2. In order to formulate a long-term action plan against wildlife trafficking, targeted research is needed on the long-term implications of the trade for state institutions, development and security. Such information will support political collaboration between all countries involved to sustain policy measures countering the trade, to uphold international treaties and cooperate on transnational movement of goods.

3. The consequences of differing policy responses need to be examined. Unintended negative outcomes from certain measures are possible. For example, non-state actors involved in poaching are more heavily armed than ever before. An armed response to the crisis might thus appear to be the only effective measure, or it might contribute to further destabilization.

4. Analysis to compare previous booms in the illegal wildlife trade, particularly the ivory trade, with the current situation may reveal patterns of behaviour among particular actors, likely consequences of the trade and successful ways to mitigate demand and supply. Historical analysis of high-level involvement in the ivory trade might be helpful in evaluating the extent and level of actors involved.

Map actors and understand the illegal wildlife trade chain

5. The connections between transnational crime syndicates, poachers and armed non-state actors in source countries and traders and consumers in demand countries need to be critically investigated. Efforts to map the links and overlaps between actors and types of transnational organized crimes would make it easier for governments to implement effective strategies. Unless the entire illegal wildlife trade chain is evaluated, transnational organized crime linking the two ends of the trade will continue to erode institutions and threaten stability.

6. Deeper analysis of the rising demand for ivory and rhino horn products is needed. Despite investigations into the growth of the legal and illegal trades in Southeast Asia, there is a lack of evidence-based studies linking historical trends of demand.

Enforce CITES through national and regional legislation

7. Discrepancies between countries in their legislation based on CITES recommendations need to be examined. Countries which have successfully integrated CITES into national legislation (including many in the EU) can support others in their efforts to strengthen legal frameworks and their implementation, particularly those with insufficient resources to enforce legislation and prosecute smugglers.

8. Harmonized law within regions needs to be critically assessed. Although the implementation of CITES through the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations makes it easier to regulate wildlife laws in the EU, other agreements typical of such regional bodies, including the free movement of goods and people, may hinder closer monitoring of illicit activities and smuggling.

9. The ICCWC, a partnership between five intergovernmental organizations – the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization – which is designed to help national governments implement their national wildlife regulations, can support law enforcement with stronger backing from the international community.