Wildlife crime
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This article is written by Medha Shrivastava, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.

What is wildlife crime

ICCWC (International consortium on controlling wildlife crime) considers ‘wildlife’ to include all wild fauna and flora, including animals, birds and fish, as well as timber and non-timber forest products.

‘Wildlife crime’ refers to the taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products, in contravention of national or international law.

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Wildlife in India

  • India only has 2.4% of the land area of the world, but has a contribution of 8% of wildlife with 45k species of plants and 91k species of animals.
  • India has a total of 662 protected areas for wildlife conservation, 5 of them being UNESCO world heritage sites.
  • Despite having a solid policy framework for wildlife conservation and prevention of wildlife crime, there has not been much check on wildlife crime.
  • The illegal trade in wildlife is driving species all over the globe to the brink of extinction. In India, the trade is expanding rapidly, driven by demand for rare species, headed for the pet market, as well as for species believed to have medicinal properties.
  • The main consumer markets are China and SouthEast Asia, but wildlife, alive or as body parts, is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe and Northern America. Beyond India, the main transit countries are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Most common products for wildlife trade in India

  1. Tiger, Leopard and Elephant skins, bones and body parts- used for herbal and traditional medicines and tonics, exported to China and other countries.
  2. Rhino horns- used for herbal medicines.
  3. Elephant tusks for ivory- used or ornaments and decorative items.
  4. Turtles and tortoises- to be used as pets or decorative items.
  5. Snake venom and skin- used in herbal medicine or religious ceremonies.
  6. Musk pods- for perfumes, ittar or local medicines.
  7. Caged birds like mynas and parakeets- to be sold as caged birds and pets. 

Challenges faced by the government in controlling wildlife crime

  1. Complex nature of wildlife crime- it’s a chain of events, interlinked with each other making its nature complex.
  2. Poor governance– lack of interest of the government in wildlife crime.
  3. Inadequate legislation– lack of interest and effort by law and policymakers in wildlife crime.
  4. Limited training opportunities– lack of officers’ and personnel’s training opportunities due to limited knowledge and awareness and will at the part of the government.
  5. Lack of equipment– lack of finances leads to a lack of equipment.
  6. Limited finances– due to rampant corruption at various levels, the money allocated by the government for controlling wildlife crime, never really reaches the implementers of law.
  7. Difficulty accessing modern enforcement tools- lack of technology, due to less research done in the field and lack of knowledge of the use of technology by the implementers of law.
  8. Lack of awareness- awareness at all the levels are lacking, be it with the locals, common people, law enforcement or policymakers. Also, sincere efforts in creating awareness have also been missing.
  9. Ineffective and deficient wildlife crime investigation– most officials do not consider wildlife crime as of serious nature due to lack of awareness, hence they do not take the investigation seriously. https://www.unodc.org/documents/Wildlife/Indicator_Framework_e.pdf
  10. Lack of awareness among prosecutors and judiciary towards the seriousness of wildlife crimes.

The major problem faced by the government in controlling wildlife crime today in India is a poorly directed and mismanaged system, where the officials with the duty of preventing the wildlife crime turn out to be its enablers due to many corruptive practices involved.

Also, the Government of India’s efforts of a coordinated approach towards controlling wildlife crime with the involvement of local communities has had its drawbacks, as these local communities are largely unwilling, unsupportive, unaware and consider this as an unnecessary burden.

Controlling wildlife crime

For too long, a wildlife crime has been a relatively low risk, high return business. Which is why it has attracted the attention of transnational, organised criminals. It is time to make it much harder for them.

To target wildlife crime, a concentrated and multidimensional approach is required which:

1) Increases the EFFORT criminals need to make;

2) Increases the RISK for criminals;

3) Reduces the REWARDS that can be gained from wildlife crime.

Steps to be taken to address wildlife crime

  1. Banning of illegally traded wildlife: If we ban the use of products that are acquired illegally from the wildlife, it will reduce the demand for such goods thus, reducing its supply. Ex- if we ban the use of ivory, naturally lesser elephants will be killed to obtain it, or if we ban the possession of turtles as pets, naturally lesser turtles will be smuggled.
  2. Stricter domestic trade regulations: The Environmental protection act of 1986, says that anyone who fails to adhere to the Act can be punished with imprisonment for a term of 5 years which may extend up to 7 years with 1 lakh rupees fine, to be increased on every subsequent conviction. In the case of India, it is not the laws that are not strict, but its implementation and enforcement on various levels of government that is lacking.
  3. Increasing the financial assistance and funding to the bodies which prevent the wildlife crime: In the case of India again, it’s not the lack of funding, but largely its misdirection and mismanagement coupled with corruption at every single step that enables money to not reach the actual preventers of crime. In India, the Government has also involved local communities in the conservation of wildlife, giving them financial assistance to do so, and can actually help in ensuring their greater participation.
  4. Empowering the people: Greater participation and awareness amongst the common people is the first and most essential step to prevent wildlife crime, if the community as a whole is aware, there will be lesser demand of these products and hence, lesser supply. Also, the local people and communities will participate and cooperate with the wildlife police to identify poaching, illegal trade and its prevention at every single step.

Organizations preventing and controlling wildlife crime

  1. World Wildlife Fund: It involves local communities and local governments in controlling wildlife crime, its dynamic project called wildlife crime technology project, seeks to involve high-grade technology like unmanned aerial vehicles, laser beams, infrared technology, remote sensing etc to prevent, control and help local government to control these crimes.
  2. Environmental Investigation Agency: It works to eliminate environmental crime, including trafficking wildlife across borders. This outstanding organization has produced a number of films to help train law enforcement officers on how to handle wildlife crimes. They also carry out undercover investigations to expose illegal markets that exploit endangered animals.
  3. TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network): Founded by an alliance of WWF (Worldwide Fund) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), primarily functions in East Asia, South Asia and Africa to create awareness against wildlife crimes. Its work involves research, the publication of influential reports, projects, education, outreach and advocacy on the issue of wildlife trade. It also focuses on leveraging resources, expertise and awareness of the latest globally urgent species trade issues.
  4. International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW): Combats the wildlife trade on the ground, IFAW also organizes undercover operations and works in conjunction with INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organisation) to train law enforcement and customs officials.

Steps that can be taken by common people to prevent wildlife crime

  1. Saying NO, to illegal wildlife products.
  2. Being a smart consumer, asking for the ingredients and procurement from retailers.
  3. Discouraging the practice of cruelty towards animals for entertainment purposes. Ex- not going to circuses which use tigers or not watching cinema which shows cruelty towards animals etc.
  4. Using only cruelty-free and eco-friendly products.
  5. Choosing only sustainable, eco-friendly pets.
  6. Donating for the cause to the NGOs, or adopting an endangered animal.
  7. Creating more public awareness and public opinion.
  8. Speaking up for the victims of wildlife trade, filing petitions or PILs on their behalf.
  9. Bringing these instances of crime to the notice of wildlife police and also cooperating with them.

Empowering and assisting local communities in helping to conserve biodiversity and wildlife by encouraging their trade, promoting their businesses etc.


Conservation of wildlife and prevention of Wildlife crime should be dealt with by an integrated approach of the entire community as a whole, right from the policymakers, government bodies, international organizations, NGOs, local communities to the common people, everybody has to act in cooperation and coordinate towards the common goal of preventing wildlife crime. It is a cause of the environment, which affects all of us equally so it cannot be the responsibility of a single body of people but should be a responsibility of every individual on Earth.


  1. https://www.unodc.org/documents/Wildlife/Indicator_Framework_e.pdf
  2. http://www.evidenceproject.eu/interpol-france.html#:~:text=The%20International% 2 0Criminal%20Police%20Organization%20(INTERPOL),-The%20International%20Criminal
  3. https://www.iucn.org/about/iucn-a-brief-history#:~:text=IUCN%2C%20Intern at i o nal %20Union%20for%20Conservation,the%20French%20town%20of%20Fontainebleau
  4. https://www.drishtiias.com/important-institutions/drishti-specials-important-institutions-international-institution/traffic#:~:text=The%20TRAFFIC%2C%20the%20Wildlif e%20T rade,biodiversity%20conservation%20and%20sustainable%20development.&text=It%20aims%20to%20ensure%20that,to%20the%20conservation%20of%20nature

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