Corruption and illegal trafficking endanger the world’s biodiversity

Corruption facilitates the illegal traffic of wildlife that threatens the survival of species around the world. As wildlife trafficking gains international recognition and gathers public attention, the role of corruption as an enabler of illegal wildlife trade is increasingly evident. While often associated with negative impacts on development and public services, corruption is also putting at risk the world’s biodiversity.

Wildlife trafficking is entangled with corruption at every step, from poaching to smuggling and selling of endangered animals and wildlife products. Corrupt deals cripple law enforcement and allow traffickers to avoid controls. The U4 Issue Corruption and wildlife trafficking describes the concrete connections between corruption and wildlife trafficking. A case study of the wildlife market in Vietnam supplies previously unavailable evidence of these connections.

Strengthen control and oversight in origin and transit countries

Corruption related to wildlife implicates multiple actors from the private and public sectors through bribes, forged or ill-gotten permits, patronage, threats of force and diplomatic cover. The price and complexity of wildlife trafficking activities informs the type of corruption that emerges. The traffic of scarcer or more endangered wildlife involves higher level actors and generates complex corruption networks – park rangers and custom agents turning a blind eye and helping avoid controls; legislators, prosecutors and regulators obstructing stronger environmental laws and hindering criminal justice.

The reduction of wildlife trafficking depends on adopting strong anti-corruption measures, including criminalising money laundering, corruption and bribery; promoting transparent lobbying to allow for adequate environmental legislation and establishing adequate penalties for environmental crimes. The monitoring and oversight of law enforcement and of the implementation of environmental legislation needs mechanisms for whistle blowing and the strengthening of civil society independence. The preservation of wildlife requires improved state accountability, an effective criminal justice system and enhanced transparency and oversight of public institutions.

Follow the money and reduce the demand for protected wildlife

Wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime that often involves organised crime and actors operating across jurisdictions. Large scale corruption involves complex financial networks. An urgent task for understanding and combatting wildlife trafficking is to unpick the illicit financial flows and money laundering that are the lifeblood of these criminal networks. Priority should be given to asset forfeiture and the repatriation of illicit gains to the affected countries.

It is the demand for wildlife products that drives the illicit market. Cultural traditions and customs play an important role in maintaining the demand for wildlife despite their conservation status. If illegal trafficking is to be stopped, campaigns to change social attitudes towards the consumption of wildlife and the acceptance of corruption are needed in both source and destination countries.

Prevention requires a holistic approach

A coordinated effort is essential for combatting wildlife trafficking and the corruption that enables it. Donor agencies can be key players through rule of law programmes, providing training and expertise in anti-corruption and financial crime. Donors can also be role models by setting robust monitoring and transparency in their own projects.

The preservation of wildlife requires combatting the corruption that impedes the enactment and enforcement of environmental legislation. Protecting biodiversity depends importantly on changing citizen attitudes towards wildlife consumption and on combatting the corrupt practices that underpin these criminal activities.

Additional resources

U4 Expert answer. Maíra Martini. 2013. Wildlife crime and corruption

U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (theme) Natural Resource Management

U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (theme) International Drivers of Corruption