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January 9, 2013

Wildlife Crime

Humane Society International/UK

  • Hares can be victims of poaching, coursing and hunting. Andy Fisher/www.andyfisherphotography.co.uk

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

  • Sea turtles are poached for their shells. Douglas Hoffman

Wildlife crime is a major threat to the health and well-being of our wild animals, both in the UK and internationally.

It comes in many guises and is covered by many different pieces of national and international legislation, from the persecution of birds of prey, to the destruction of protected habitat, to poaching, hare coursing and badger baiting, and the trade in endangered wild animals and their body parts, such as rhino horns and elephant tusks.

Recognised by leading national and international agencies as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, wildlife crime concerns not only animals and their habitats: research has shown that it is often linked to other organised crime, such as drug smuggling, money laundering and even terrorism. It can also result in the spreading of diseases amongst and between animals and humans.

It is vital that we not only encourage politicians to continue to improve legislation to help protect vulnerable wildlife, but also to support the enforcement of existing wildlife laws and regulations.

Police and other enforcement agencies need long-term cooperation and resources from governments to continue their work of protecting animals and bringing wildlife criminals to justice.

Wildlife crime in the UK

Responsibility for enforcing wildlife laws rests with the UK’s police forces, which include specialist Wildlife Crime Officers. However, almost all of these officers carry out their wildlife roles alongside their regular police work. The UK Border Agency is responsible for import and export controls on endangered species.

National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU)

The UK's National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is one of the world's leading organisations devoted to combating wildlife crime.

Established in 2006, the police-led unit assists in the detection and prevention of offences. It works with Animal Health and the UK Border Agency, among others, and its work is hugely valuable in the fight against wildlife crime both nationally and internationally.

The Unit is largely funded by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Home Office, each having contributed £136,000 for the period 2012-13 (down from £144,000 in 2011-12) [1]. Although funding (at the 2012-13 level) has been agreed for 2013-14, funding past that period has yet to be confirmed. The National Wildlife Crime Unit does excellent work for very little cost. A long-term commitment to funding from these government departments would help the Unit continue and expand this vital work.

An Early Day Motion (EDM 603) in support of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, calling on the government to commit to long-term funding for the Unit, attracted cross-party support.

"Wildlife Crime", a report by the Environmental Audit Committee

In 2012, the UK's Environmental Audit Committee, a group of cross-party Members of Parliament, undertook an inquiry into the government's commitment to tackling wildlife crime, the first report of its kind since 2004.

The report concluded that although there has been a greater commitment to tackling wildlife crime since the 2004 inquiry, action is still required in a number of areas and new developments also needed addressing.

The Committee also called on the government to protect and develop the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), saying that it must "maintain the current level of funding, with longer-term certainty, to allow the Unit to focus on its core duties."

"Wildlife Law" consultation

During 2012, the Law Commission undertook a consultation on the reform of the UK’s wildlife legislation.

As stated in the consultation documentation, the current law regulating wildlife is spread over a collection of Acts dating back to 1831, resulting in a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and often contradictory. The Commission also stated that certain legislation has been "amended to such a degree that it is difficult for any non-specialists to use."

The Commission’s proposals aim to simply the existing framework of laws into a single piece of legislation and reduce the dependency on criminal law, by allowing for an appropriate mix of guidance, advice, fines and bans.

Humane Society International/UK, both in its own name and as part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link network of around 40 non-government organisations concerned with the protection of British wildlife and wildlife habitats, has provided detailed submissions to the Law Commission’s consultation. The Commission’s recommendations and a draft Bill are anticipated to be published in mid-2014.

International work to combat wildlife crime & wildlife trade

HSI advocates for strong wildlife protection policies and promotes better education around the world though our Don't Buy Wild campaign.

Our Wildlife department and our regional offices work to protect wildlife through liaison with intergovernmental agencies around the world, and participating in international agreements including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Our Costa Rica office works to safeguard wildlife and combat trade in Latin America.


1. Wildlife Crime, Environmental Audit Committee report, 18 October 2012.

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