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United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: World Wildlife Crime Report Trafficking in protected species



Ghada Waly, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


The heedless exploitation of nature by humans has led to unprecedented biodiversity loss and a worsening climate crisis. It is also a threat to human health, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, transferred from animals to humans, facilitated by environmental destruction and wildlife crime.

Links between the global health crisis and the illegal exploitation of wildlife have been in the spotlight since it was suggested that wet markets selling wildlife, in this case pangolins, could have facilitated the transfer of COVID-19 to humans. The spike in public awareness of this connection has led to a push for new bans on the sale of wild animals for consumption.

It is against this backdrop that the second edition of the World Wildlife Crime Report is published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report shows wildlife crime to be a business that is global; lucrative, with high demand driving high prices; and extremely widespread. Nearly 6,000 different species of fauna and flora have been seized between 1999 and 2018, with nearly every country in the world playing a role in the illicit wildlife trade.

The need to stop wildlife trafficking has gained an increasingly prominent place on the political agenda over the past years. Since the publication of UNODC’s first World Wildlife Crime Report in 2016, regulation has increased for several wildlife markets, including that for pangolin products.

International trade in all pangolin species is now banned. Despite this, growing volumes are being seized each year. The present edition of the World Wildlife Crime Report shows that between 2014 and 2018, seizures of pangolin scales increased tenfold.

Such developments point to the many challenges which Governments face in preventing and countering wildlife and forest crime.

The present report shows that regulations on wildlife crime can trigger replacement effects, for example, geographic displacement of trade exploiting legislative gaps between countries, or a shift from protected to alternative species. Robust research and analysis, as well as consistent legislation within countries and across regions are essential to eliminate loopholes. Identifying and addressing the vulnerabilities of legal markets to infiltration by the illicit trade is also key to strengthening the global regulatory system. Public awareness of the scale and impact of the threats posed by wildlife crime can help reduce demand for products of the illegal wildlife trade and increase support for action.

Building upon UNODC’s research and analysis work, the Office’s Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime provides policy guidance and technical assistance to requesting countries. UNODC draws upon its role as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the United Nations Convention against Corruption to build the capacities of law enforcement and criminal justice institutions, and support the communities impacted by wildlife crime. Putting an end to wildlife crime is an essential part of building back better from the COVID-19 crisis. As we prepare the road to recovery, we have the chance to reset our relationship with nature and lay the foundations of a more just and more resilient world – working together to eliminate wildlife trafficking, prevent future pandemics and put us back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals. I hope that the second edition of the UNODC World Wildlife Crime Report will be a useful resource to all our stakeholders, contributing to new and sustained action that can close gaps in awareness, knowledge, legislation, and resources – for the sake of people and planet.