Wildlife crime

The world’s flora and fauna are at great risk from criminals. We help ensure protected wildlife is free from criminal exploitation.

The issues

Plants and animals are incredibly important for the health of our planet. The delicate balance in our ecosystems relies on biodiversity, and wildlife crimes pose a great threat to this. From hunting elephants for ivory to smuggling endangered plant species, wildlife crimes often span many national borders so an international approach is needed.

The illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth up to USD 20 billion per year (Source: UNEP-INTERPOL Report: The Rise of Environmental Crime). Wild flora and fauna can be exploited by criminals along the entire supply chain, from poaching and transportation to processing and selling. Other illegal activities are often associated with wildlife crimes, including money laundering, corruption and document fraud.

Our response

The INTERPOL Wildlife Enforcement team helps to disrupt and dismantle transnational organized criminal networks involved in the illegal wildlife trade. We assist our member countries to enforce national and international laws and treaties effectively.

We engage with the entire wildlife sector and supply chain to identify modus operandi of wildlife criminals and issue INTERPOL notices to alert our member countries. We have coordinated several operations that have successfully brought wildlife criminals to justice, dismantled the networks behind the crime and led to the seizure of tonnes of illicit products.

Projects and operations

Project Predator

This project has been enhancing law enforcement’s capacity to conserve Asian big cats and other wildlife since its creation in 2010. These big cats are killed due to the high value of their fur on the black market and the demand for their body parts for traditional medicines and other uses.

Project Predator assists countries with organizing transnational operations, intelligence gathering, provides investigative support and links up law enforcement with international organizations and non-governmental organizations to bring poachers and smuggling rings to justice.

Project Wisdom

Elephants and rhinoceros are poached for their ivory and horn respectively. Ivory is carved and sold as artifacts, while rhino horn is reduced to powder and used in traditional medicine.

Project Wisdom supports member countries in the conservation of these precious species and bring down the criminal networks that are hunting elephants and rhinos.

Wildlife crime
Record numbers of elephants and rhinos have been poached since 2010, with two sub-species of rhino shot into extinction in recent years.

Operations coordinated under Project Wisdom have so far resulted in more than 1,100 arrests, the seizure of tonnes of raw ivory and 50,000 carved ivory items. Conviction rates for those arrested exceed 80 per cent.

Operation Thunderstorm (2018)
Operation Thunderstorm

This operation targeted the people behind the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, and involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies from 93 countries. The operation saw almost 2,000 seizures and the identification of some 1,400 suspects, triggering arrests worldwide.

Operation Thunderbird (2017)

A global operation tackling the illegal trade in wildlife and timber that resulted in the identification of nearly 900 suspects and 1,300 seizures of illicit products worth an estimated USD 5.1 million. The operation involved police, customs, border agencies, environment, wildlife and forestry officials from 49 countries and territories, and resulted in a range of seizures.

Operation Worthy II (2015)

This operation targeted ivory trafficking in Africa and resulted in 376 arrests and the seizure of 4.5 tonnes of elephant ivory and rhino horn. We deployed specialized teams to assist in the investigation of 25 criminal groups involved in the illicit trade.

Operation Paws (Protection of Asian Wildlife Species) II (2015)

More than 13 tonnes of pangolin products were seized in this operation, representing some 1,000 animals, at an estimated street value exceeding USD 2 million. Paws II sought to enhance communication and intelligence sharing between countries through cyber investigations, DNA analysis, and joint enforcement activities involving police, customs and wildlife agencies.

Wildlife Crime Working Group

The wildlife experts who make up our Wildlife Crime Working Group devise strategies and initiatives for law enforcement to combat these crimes on an international scale. The group initiates operations aimed at capturing wildlife criminals, seizing poached items and dismantling the organized networks responsible for wildlife crime. It also engages with key players in wildlife conservation and law enforcement to maximize the global impact of its projects and operations.