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Disturbing world-wide failure in investigating the illegal international wildlife trade with hardly any criminals ending up in the dock

(LONDON) Despite several high-profile seizures during the past four years, there have been hardly any proper investigations into the international illegal wildlife trade and few prosecutions of the criminals involved, a new analysis of public and court records has revealed.

As of the end of January 2021 the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) database has recorded almost 8,000 seizures globally of Asian big cats, elephants, pangolins and rhino. While about 60 per cent involved the arrest of one or more suspects, EIA has not been able to identify, based on available information, any prosecutions for a large majority of the seizures.

The EIA report Off the Hook: the need for transparency and accountability in tackling wildlife crime, published during the UN Crime Congress 2021, highlights key examples of large-scale seizures in Vietnam, Thailand, Nigeria, Malaysia and Singapore between 2016 and 2020 which have no reported law enforcement outcomes

They included in one case the confiscation of more than two tonnes of ivory and six tonnes of pangolin scales and in another 147 live tigers and the carcasses of 70 tiger cubs. Yet, based on publicly available information accessed by EIA, there were no effective follow-up investigations by law enforcement in all instances and not a single criminal was prosecuted.

The report identifies five key reasons – a lack of transparency regarding law enforcement efforts to combat the crime; weak laws; a reluctance to follow the money to disrupt criminal networks; a failure to target the kingpins and poor international cooperation.

“Seizures provide wonderful photo opportunities for governments and give the impression that they are cracking down on the criminals involved in the multi-million-pound illegal wildlife trade,” says EIA lawyer and Senior Wildlife Campaigner, Shruti Suresh. “But in truth, their failure to investigate the international organised crime syndicates and individuals behind the trade and pursue them through the courts is a worrying dereliction of duty.”

EIA recommend that governments improve reporting on law enforcement results related to wildlife crime, that there should be more judicial transparency, that wildlife crime should be taken more seriously and by conducting more thorough and effective investigations.

“Fighting wildlife crime isn’t down to a single police force or agency or government. It requires help from everyone, says Suresh, “prosecutors, the judiciary, the media, inter-governmental bodies and ordinary people.”

EIA would also like to see a crackdown on corrupt government officials who help facilitate the trade; a more concerted effort to go after crime syndicate leaders, not just poachers or couriers; to recognise the connections between the illegal wildlife trade and money laundering and to seize the proceeds of crime.


  • Shruti Suresh, EIA Senior Wildlife Campaigner, via [email protected] or +44 (0) 2073 547 960
  • Paul Woolwich, EIA Head of Communications, via [email protected] or +44 (0) 7788 442 742


  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
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