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Criminal justice actors and agencies


Law enforcement authorities

The enforcement of laws, including offences, relating to wildlife trafficking is for the most part a matter for national agencies (Nurse, 2015). The criminal justice response to wildlife trafficking usually involves several government sectors, departments, and entities. Several jurisdictions divide the responsibilities for investigating wildlife trafficking between multiple agencies depending on the stage of the investigation or the kind or seriousness of the offences involved (UNODC, 2018). In many jurisdictions, responsibilities in relation to combating and preventing wildlife trafficking is spread between multiple organizations or institutions, which makes national coordination and cooperation particularly important. Furthermore, responsibilities and powers need to be clearly assigned and delineated to give certainty about 'who is who' and 'who does what' in this area (UNODC, 2012; UNODC, 2018). Actors and agencies typically involved in the criminal justice response to wildlife trafficking include the following:

Natural resources, forestry, agriculture, fisheries, national parks, and environment departments

Specialized government departments, such as ministries of forestry, agriculture, natural resources, or the environment usually have particular functions and responsibilities dealing with certain aspects pertaining to wildlife trafficking. Respective officers, such as park rangers, forestry inspectors, wildlife officers, fishery inspectors, environment inspectors, and quarantine officers are typically involved in the detection and identification of wildlife-related offences (Nurse, 2015; UNODC, 2018; Wyatt, 2013). The mandate of these agencies and the powers of such officials is usually (and should be) spelled out in domestic law.This includes powers to conduct investigations, collect and seize evidence, question suspects, prepare case files, et cetera (UNODC, 2018).


In the absence of any specialized authority, police are responsible for the investigation of wildlife trafficking (Runhovde, 2016; Nurse, 2015; Tomkins, 2005; UNODC, 2018). Police may also be called upon to conduct specialized investigative measures or exercise advanced functions that are outside the mandate of wildlife officials or other agencies (UNODC, 2018). Relevant law enforcement officers may include personnel from national, regional, and/or local police, specialized police units with responsibility for wildlife trafficking, economic and financial crime, crime scene and forensic investigations, telecommunications, undercover operations, et cetera (UNODC, 2018; UNODC, 2012). Some police organizations join forces with other government agencies, such as the Blue Rhino Task Team formed in Namibia in 2018. The Blue Rhino Task Team is a dedicated, multi-agency unit for quick responses to poaching incidents.


In many jurisdictions, the role of Customs evolved from traditional revenue collection responsibilities to an increasingly important role in the detection and investigation of wildlife and forest crime (Wyatt, 2013; see also, Polner, 2015). Customs agencies may come into contact with wildlife trafficking at ports, airports, and land borders. They are generally mandated to detect and identify wildlife trafficking at these locations by specific customs laws or similar legislation (UNODC, 2018; see also, de Klemm, 1993). Further, Customs officers often play an important role in special investigations, such as investigations involving controlled deliveries (UNODC, 2018). Accordingly, relevant officials need to be adequately trained and equipped with the relevant powers to conduct investigations, prepare file cases, and collect and seize evidence. Some countries have specialized customs units to detect wildlife trafficking (UNODC, 2018; see also, Wyatt, 2013). Nevertheless, the detection of wildlife trafficking is often a lower priority for customs officials compared to other crime types such as drug or arms trafficking.

Coast guards

As with Customs, civilian coast guards, where they do exist, may come into contact with instances of wildlife trafficking and, in some jurisdictions, have a mandate to investigate such cases and question suspects (UNODC, 2012).

Prosecution and judicial authorities

Prosecution authorities and, in some jurisdictions, judges, oversee aspects of the investigation of wildlife trafficking and are involved in the application for, and issue of, warrants and the authorization to use certain special investigative techniques (UNODC, 2018). Depending on the legal tradition of the country, prosecutors and judges may have wide discretion when dealing with a wildlife trafficking case. Sentencing plays a pivotal role in the public perception of the severity of the crime.

Other agencies and officials

Depending on the jurisdiction, other government agencies, such as the military, may exercise functions where they encounter wildlife trafficking. The specific role and mandate of such agencies and their staff in the investigation of wildlife trafficking will depend on domestic law and administrative arrangements. Other specialized agencies such as financial investigation units, anti-corruption commissions, and tax revenue authorities may also have a role in this context (UNODC, 2018).

Private sector involvement

In some jurisdictions, private sector organizations exercise functions that, directly or indirectly, relate to the enforcement of laws against wildlife trafficking (Nurse, 2013). This may also involve private firms and individuals who provide security in national parks or other designated places (Nurse, 2015; Nurse, 2013; DLA Piper, 2014; UNODC, 2012). More and more, national agencies are opening up to cooperation with the private sector and civil society (Nurse, 2013; Polner, 2015; see also Khooshie Lal Panjabi, 2014).

Civil society, community policing

Local people who live in or near protected areas, national parks, or game reserves where wildlife may be poached, where plants may be harvested, or where illegal logging occurs play a vital role in the detection of, and the fight against wildlife trafficking.

The involvement of local communities and civil society is a vital part of any strategy to detect and prevent wildlife trafficking and is increasingly recognized in national policies and international strategies. Practical measures that involve civil society, especially rural communities, include, inter alia, community conservancies, community-run anti-poaching units, and other forms of community policing (Hübschle & Shearing, 2018; Ratsimbazafy et al, 2018). Other strategies aim to build communities that are resilient to poaching and wildlife trafficking, that create incentives to report and prevent such crime, and improve rural livelihoods and reduce the demand for wildlife contraband in rural and urban areas (Hübschle & Shearing, 2018; Bukhi Mabele, 2017).

Example: Rhino protection in Nepal

Like their African relatives, Asian rhinoceros are frequently targeted by poachers. The vast majority of Nepal's rhinos live in Chitwan National Park. In the 1990s, Nepalese conservation authorities reached out to local communities to actively involve them in protecting rhinos and conservation areas. Nepal's Buffer Zone Management Regulation of 1996 granted rights to local communities to manage and use natural resources within such areas. A management committee consisting of elected community representatives decides on the development activities implemented in these zones. Park authorities share approximately one third of the park's revenue with communities that live adjacent to protected areas. Over the years, these initiatives have made a real impact and have local residents deeply invested in managing and caring for protected areas and, importantly, have made a substantial contribution to greater protection of Nepal's rhino population.

(Hübschle & Shearing, 2018)

Example: Community-based natural resource management in Namibia

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is a rigorous process of institutional reform that combines the devolution and delineation of property rights with collective action in rural communities to improve the value and sustainability of wild resources. Since 2000, Namibia's national CBNRM programme has led the way in the region by devolving wildlife use rights and all benefits to self-defined communities. This established community conservancies, and local government was bypassed to avoid district councils absorbing a disproportionate share of wildlife revenues. The programme is well organized and has resulted in a rapid increase in registered and emerging conservancies. An additional benefit has been the demonstrable recovery of wildlife populations including endangered species. The rapid growth of the concept has required a new system of governance based on bottom-up accountability and high levels of local participation.

(Child & Barnes, 2010)

Regional and specialized law enforcement initiatives

Several regional specialized initiatives have been set up to tackle particular aspects of wildlife trafficking or to focus on particular geographical areas.

The Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) processes, for instance, are regional initiatives coordinated by the World Bank and organized in cooperation with governments of consumer countries. Thus far, regional FLEG processes have been set up for Africa, North Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Latin America (Strydom, 2016; UNODC, 2012). The objectives of the FLEG processes are to improve governance in the forest sector and to foster international dialogue and cooperation to fight illegal logging and trade by improving linkages and harmonizing regulations (UNODC, 2012).

Regional ‘wildlife enforcement networks’ (WENs) have been set up to facilitate cross-border cooperation between agencies involved in preventing and suppressing wildlife trafficking. These include the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HAWEN), the North American Wildlife Enforcement Group (NAWEG), the European Union Wildlife Trade Enforcement Group (established by Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, OJ L 61, 3 March 1997), and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) (Strydom, 2016; UNODC, 2012; see also, Wyatt, 2013), which was merged with the ASEAN working group on CITES to the ASEAN Working Group on CITES and Wildlife Enforcement (AWG CITES & WE). Similarly, a task force has been set up through the Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora to facilitate cooperative activities among national agencies in carrying out investigations on wildlife trafficking. The task force comprises law enforcement from States Parties as well as locally recruited support staff.

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) comprises the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The Consortium was established to support national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to stimulate a coordinated law enforcement response to environmental crime, helping to deliver on-the-ground action and to ensure transnational organized criminal groups are identified and disrupted (UNODC, 2012; Scanlon & Farroway, 2016). ICCWC organizes global meetings of the wildlife enforcement networks to promote the sharing of information on best practices and lessons learned about the establishment and functioning of the wildlife enforcement networks (ICCWC, 2016; see also Wyatt, 2013).

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Horn of Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network (HAWEN)

In 2011, the countries of the Horn of Africa agreed to join forces in their fight against wildlife trafficking. In October 2012, the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HAWEN) was initiated in Addis Ababa. HAWEN facilitates information sharing and intelligence gathering, as well as law enforcement monitoring. Furthermore, it provides a platform for joint capacity development, evidence handling and legal prosecution of wildlife crime cases. Additionally, collaborating with other WENs is a key activity of HAWEN.

The countries committed to HAWEN are: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

(CITES, undated).
Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Regional police cooperation

Southern Africa has established regional police cooperation in order to address regional and transnational organized crime: The Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Coordination Organisation (SARPCCO). SARPCCO was founded in 1995 and includes members from 16 States. Guiding principles of SARPCCO include, among others, the spirit of mutual cooperation, equality of all Member States, mutual benefit to all Member States, and observance of all human rights.

Throughout the years, SARPCCO has been promoting cooperation and joint strategies among the Member States. Furthermore, the organization facilitated management strategies and developed training modules for law enforcement personnel. It also provides policing recommendations to Member States.

Similarly, Eastern Africa established the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO). INTERPOL partners with both organizations to support Member States addressing cross-border organized crime.

(Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Coordination Organisation, 2019).


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