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October 31, 2011

Wildlife Crime

How INTERPOL and HSI are teaming up to help animals

  • Confiscated items from the illegal trade in wildlife. Carl Zitzman/US FWS

Wildlife crime is the illegal exploitation of wild animals and plants and is usually committed for monetary profit. Wildlife products involved are mostly fashion items such as crocodile skin, cowboy boots or turtle shell jewelry often bought to boost an individual’s social status. Wildlife crime is a criminal offense that is frequently predicated upon vanity and motivated by greed.

The animals that suffer from wildlife crime most often are endangered species such as tigers, sea turtles and elephants that have already endured very high levels of exploitation for their commercially valuable bones, skins, shells and ivory. Intense exploitation resulting in severe depletion of wild animal populations motivates governments to provide legal protection to the survivors. Criminal syndicates defy such legal protections and continue exploiting these vulnerable animals even to the point of extinction.

Although some claim wildlife poachers and traffickers involved in wildlife crime are merely victims of poverty, INTERPOL (the International Criminal Police Organization) has found a considerable link to this illegal trade by organized criminal syndicates that also traffic in drugs, firearms and other contraband. In addition to the tragic cruelty imposed on wild animals by such criminals, INTERPOL experience has found that wildlife crime also includes many other violations, such as conspiracy, fraud, smuggling, money laundering, and crimes of violence. Approximately 100 wildlife rangers are killed in the line of duty each year in Africa alone. 

Humane Society International (HSI) is a partner with INTERPOL in fighting wildlife crime. HSI support has helped INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme pursue its four strategic goals:

1. Enhancing the wildlife law enforcement capacities of INTERPOL’s 188 member countries. This strategic goal mostly involves conducting professional training programs in developing countries and providing useful technical equipment. INTERPOL also publishes confidential guide books on topics such as techniques used by wildlife smugglers and techniques for questioning arrested traffickers.

2. Helping INTERPOL’s member countries to exchange information about persons and syndicates involved in wildlife crime. This strategic goal includes the INTERPOL Ecomessage, a mechanism for transmitting information to INTERPOL’s database. The INTERPOL Criminal Information System (ICIS) is the only global database that holds sensitive law enforcement information about persons involved in wildlife crime.

3. Providing operational support to countries engaged in wildlife law enforcement. This goal includes INTERPOL-coordinated operations such as Operation RAMP – targeting the illegal trade in endangered reptiles and amphibians—and Operation TRAM—targeting the illegal trade in traditional medicines such as tiger bone. A series of four operations (BABA, COSTA, MOGATLE and AHMED) have additionally resulted in the arrest of 254 ivory dealers in more than a dozen African countries, along with the recovery of more than three tons of contraband raw ivory, several tens of thousands of ivory carvings, other wildlife products, drugs, firearms and other contraband.

4. Providing opportunities for wildlife law enforcement officers around the world to network. Networking allows for ideas and skills to be exchanged. An officer in country X is more likely to be promptly responsive when called by an officer in country Y whom he knows personally. This collegial relationship results in cooperation and effectiveness, and that puts wildlife criminals out of business.

For more information about INTERPOL’s wildlife crime efforts, scroll through the wildlife pages on the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme website.

Prepared for Humane Society International by William Clark, INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme Consultant