Members' Research Service By / April 5, 2016

Wildlife trafficking in Africa: Endangered security

Written by Eric Pichon. [last update 5 April 2016] Illegal exploitation of natural resources, hunting of protected wild animals and…

picture by Beau B [Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)]
Poaching alert
picture by Beau B [Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

Written by Eric Pichon.

[last update 5 April 2016] Illegal exploitation of natural resources, hunting of protected wild animals and trade of the proceeds of these crimes are a serious threat for Africa.

As an environmental problem, it hinders the survival of endangered species, and the balance of flora and fauna in the concerned areas. Primarily targeted are the natural reserves which, insufficiently guarded, become a source of “livestock” for poachers.

“Wildlife trafficking is valued at more than US$ 7 billion a year, making it the globe’s fifth most lucrative illegal activity” according to Conservation International .  Moreover, wildlife trafficking is a source of income for warring parties, who have an interest in controlling vast natural areas and their local population, as is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia,  and other conflict zones.

The EU and other international bodies are well aware that fighting wildlife trafficking is now part of the global fight against organised crime, but the weakness of state institutions in the affected countries and discrepancies in national legal provisions of the countries of destination still make it difficult to curb trafficking.

Overview | International agreements and bodies | EU approach | African approach | NGOs’ and Think tanks’ analyses, Inographics | Case studies


A quite complete and well documented report on the various causes and implications of wildlife crime: Katherine Lawson and Alex Vines. Global Impacts of the Illegal Wildlife Trade: The Costs of Crime, Insecurity and Institutional Erosion . Chatham House (UK). February 2014, 62 p.

For recent information, Brookings’ The global poaching vortex, 2 March 2016, features infographics on the main aspects of the issue: what animals are poached where, loss and gains of elephant populations, rhino poaching levels, ivory demand by country,…

International agreements and bodies


The main international instrument to tackle wildlife trafficking is CITES , the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora . The Member Countries of this international agreement have agreed to “to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.”

CITES provides useful databases, guidelines, and reports to enhance international cooperation.

As a trade agreement between governments, CITES has little scope for organised crime, but it has an “armed wing”, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) involving Interpol, the World Customs Organisation, the UN Organisation on Drugs and Crime, and the World Bank .

C. Nellemann et al. (Eds). 2014. The Environmental Crime Crisis : Threats to Sustainable Development from Illegal Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife and Forest Resource: A Rapid Response Assessment . UNEP; Interpol; GRID-Arendal, June 2014, 108 p.

World Bank. 2014. Enforcing environmental laws for strong economies and safe communities . Agriculture and environmental services discussion paper, 5. World Bank Group, Februay 2014.
In its role of fighting corruption as a major obstacle on development, the World Bank presents a roadmap to Environmental and Natural Resources Law Enforcement (ENRLE).

UN Environment Program – UN Environment Assembly

The first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) , in Nairobi, 23-27 June 2014 – an initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – featured a Ministerial dialogue on Illegal Trade in Wildlife , aiming at identifying and overcoming legal barriers to the fight against wildlife trafficking. The seond UNEA meeting will take place in May 2016.

EU approach

The EU Approach to Combat Wildlife Trafficking . European Commission, DG Environment.
This page gives a good overview of the extent of the problem and  presents the EU initiatives to fight against wildlife trafficking, in the framework of CITES and beyond.

The EU has a Wildlife Trade Regulations against trafficking endangered species.

Minimum requirements to be implemented in national criminal laws as concerns environmental crime are set out in Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law.

The European Commission released a Communication on the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking in February 2016. The action plan proposes several measures to address the problem, they involve:
(1) preventing wildlife trafficking and addressing its root causes,
(2) implementing and enforcing existing rules and combating organised wildlife crime more effectively, and
(3) strengthening the global partnership of source, consumer and transit countries against wildlife trafficking.
The plan has not yet been endorsed by the Council (as of 5/4/2016)

To tackle the problem at the beginning of the illicit value chain, this approach is complemented by Biodiversity for Life (B4Life) , EuropeAid’s initiative to protect biodiversity and fight wildlife crime in developping countries, presented on 22 May 2014.

Conference on Wildlife, Brussels, 5 May 2015
“The European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety with the cooperation of the Directorate General for Environment organised a one-day conference in Brussels on 5 May 2015, with the focus on Wildlife and the issues of animal health, welfare, environment and species protection.”

Threat Assessment 2013: Environmental Crime in the EU . Europol. November 2013, 18 p.
This assessment emphasizes the increasing share of organised crime in wildlife trafficking within the EU.

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution of 17 December 2015 on the protection of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2015/2728(RSP))
Parliament stressed the absolute need to prevent irreversible damage to the VNP occurring as a result of the exploration and exploitation of oil or other illegal activities. Parliament also deplored the fact that the VNP has also become one of the most dangerous places in the world when it comes to wildlife conservation.

European Parliament resolution of 8 October 2015 on the Central African Republic (2015/2874(RSP))
The European Parliament requests better coordination international against exploitation and illegal trafficking of CAR’s wildlife and natural resources.

European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2014 on wildlife crime (2013/2747(RSP)).
A call for tougher action.

European Parliament resolution of 23 October 2013 on organised crime, corruption and money laundering: recommendations on action and initiatives to be taken (final report) (2013/2107 (INI)).
The European Parliament […] “127.Calls on the Commission and the Council to develop a European action plan against wildlife trafficking”

European Parliament resolution of 6 February 2013 on the EU strategic objectives for the 16th meeting of [the CITES Conference] (2012/2838(RSP))

African approach

African Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa  (‘Brazzaville Strategy’), African Union, May 2015.
The Strategy sets out seven key objectives: Increase the level of political commitment to combat wildlife crime; Improve governance, integrity and enhance regional, inter-regional cooperation; Enhance engagement with consumer states to reduce demand, supply and transit of illegal products of wild fauna and flora; Promote sustainable use of wild fauna and flora; Reduce the economic, security and stability impact of wildlife crime; Increase capacity, information, advocacy and public awareness; Increase the capacity of source and transit states.

Fourth Eu-Africa Summit Roadmap 2014-2017 . April 2014.
” 67. […] We commit in particular to protect African wildlife by preventing and combatting poaching and trafficking, including through the Wildlife Crisis Window of the EU Biodiversity for life [B4Life] initiative. […].”

The African Elephant Summit, Gaborone , 2-4 December 2013, was organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ) and the government of Botswana. Delegates from 30 countries and 27 inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations have adopted urgent measures to fight poaching and illegal ivory trade.

Sommet de l’Elysée pour la Paix et la Sécurité en Afrique , December 2013
Final declaration : “7. The Heads of State and Government highlighted that the establishment of terrorist and criminal networks – drug and human traffickers, poachers and traffickers in endangered species, who fuel corruption networks, as well as those who exploit natural resources illegally – are a threat to peace and security in Africa and worldwide. […]” ;
cf also Paris et 20 pays africains se penchent sur le braconnage . Jeune Afrique, 5 December 2013.

Reports and analyses

TRAFFIC , the wildlife trade monitoring network, is an international NGO aiming at informing governments, the private sector and the consumers about wildlife trade issues – it is possible to browse  its publications by topic (example: enforcement ) or to search in their content .

Khristopher Carlson, Joanna Wright, and Hannah Dönges. In the Line of Fire: Elephant and Rhino Poaching in Africa, in: Small Arms Survey, 2015  ‘Provides an overview of the profiles of poachers, the firearms they use, and the origins of these arms.’

Tackling the Illicit African Wildlife Trade. Council on Foreign Relations, 18/09/2015.
Illicit trafficking has an economic cost for African countries, it also feeds insecurity. But tackling it is the concern of all world nations, by helping African countries to improve their capacity to fight against poachers, but also by cutting on demand.
Bryan Christy; Brent Stirton. How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa. National Geographic, 12/08/2015.
The journalists tracked a pair of faked elephant tusks placed in a poached stock, from central Africa to Sudan. They find evidence that this trade finances armed groups, in particular the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Ross Harvey. Preserving the African Elephant for Future Generations. SAIIA South African Institute of International Affairs, Occasional Paper 219, 07/2015, 40 p.
A literature review and comparison of elephant conservation strategies: reducing ivory demand, reduce paching, band ivory trade. The author ‘contends that it would be best to reduce demand and poaching first, and then implement domestic bans later.’

Poaching Is Threat to International Peace and Security: Panel discussions . International Peace Institute. 20 June 2014. [Video recording 1h30min]. The discussants are: Vanda Felbab-Brown (The Brookings Institution), Nicole Mollo (African Parks Foundation) and Ruben de Koning (UN Group of Experts on the DRC)

WWF. 2012. Wildlife Crime Scorecard: Assessing the Commitment of Countries to Stop Illegal Wildlife Trade . 2012.

Case studies

Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe): Bram Büscher; Maano Ramutsindela. Green Violence: Rhino Poaching and The war to Save Southern Africa’s Peace Parks. African Affairs, Vol. 115, no. 458, pp. 1–22, 12/2015.
The article shows that the will to protect the park from rhino poaching have led to the justification of violent and nearly extra-legal  measures against poachers, which is in contradiction with the very aim of the ‘Peace Park’.

Central African Republic Eric Pichon. République centrafricaine: une économie saccagée. EPRS, December 2015. Wildlife trafficking is one of the main resources for the militias controlling vast areas of the CAR’s territory.

Kenya: Poachers Kill Famous Kenyan Elephant Amid Warnings of “Industrial Scale” Smuggling . Sabahi, 16 June 2014.

Somalia: Jeremiah Foxwell. Severing Al Shabab’s Lifeline . World Policy Institute, 17 February 2014.
Fighting wildlife crime would help Somalia and the international community to weaken Al-Shabab, whose major source of income for is poaching and illegal ivory trade, argues the author.

DR Congo : Britta Sjstedt. The Role of Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Armed Conflict: Green-keeping in Virunga Park. Applying the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in the Armed Conflict of the Democratic Republic of the Congo . Nordic Journal of International Law, Vol. 82, no. 1, pp. 129–153, January 2013.
This article describes how the fights between the army and rebel groups and the involvement of both parts in illegal economic activities groups jeopardised the integrity of the park. It analyses how the damages can be addressed.

South Africa : Princess Aliyah Pandolfi. Robotic Technology to Preserve Wildlife: a Scenario A new flying robotics challenge takes aim at the armed groups that are hunting the black rhino and other animals out of existence . Futurist, Vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 35–39, March 2014.

The endnotes of UNEP-Interpol- GRID June 2014 Report also provides numerous case studies.

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