Criminal Nature – the dangerous links between poaching and organized crime

Check out our infographic below with several alarming facts pulled from the IFAW Criminal Nature report on wildlife crime.Today, the International Fund for Animal Welfare released our report Criminal Nature: The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade, in order to highlight how the poaching epidemic has serious ramifications not just for endangered species, but also for nations and communities around the world.

At $19 billion per year, the illegal wildlife trade ranks as the fourth most lucrative criminal activity internationally, behind only narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

It includes everything from the slaughter of elephants for their ivory, to the sale of great apes and exotic birds as pets, to caviar, decorative tiger pelts, and rhinoceros horns used for carvings and traditional medicines. Whatever the end product, the results for animals are tragic and are leading to widespread population declines of many endangered species.

Anyone who has seen the fallen carcass of a once-majestic elephant, tusks hacked off, can attest to the fact that poaching is cruel commerce. Worse, it is driven by some of our basest impulses: the desire for status symbols and trophies.

Sadly, the prices for animal items are skyrocketing: ivory costs up to $1,000 per pound. Rhino horn is more valuable than gold or platinum. Pangolins (a small nocturnal, scaled anteater) can fetch $1,000 each.

Huge profits, combined with soft penalties for lawbreakers and lax enforcement, have created a perfect situation for organized crime to move in.

In Criminal Nature we detail how rebel and militia groups, criminal syndicates, and even terrorist organizations are using the lucrative black market for animal parts to finance their operations. The new generation of poachers often uses military equipment like AK-47 machine guns and even rocket launchers and helicopters, which enable them to slaughter animals at will—last year, poachers killed between 300-450 elephants in a matter of weeks in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park—and their activity puts wildlife officials in mortal danger, with at least 1,000 park rangers killed in 35 different countries over the last decade alone.

(Click here for a print-ready, high-resolution version.)

As I write, elephant populations stand at three percent of the historic numbers, and rhinos have dwindled to around 26,000 in Africa—down from a half million at the turn of the twentieth century.

Big cats and other species face similar perils.

With such wide-reaching consequences for people and animals, we need our elected officials to rise to the challenge of combating the illegal wildlife trade now.

IFAW is working around the world on all links of the wildlife crime chain, and in the United States to encourage Congress and the Administration to lead the global community in its efforts to crack down on the criminals responsible for the devastation, making our world safer for people and the wildlife we love.

We hope that the report will be a valuable resource for decision makers at all levels of government—both in America and on other continents—as they weigh the options for combatting this horrific industry.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy