Every day, an unknown number of elephant tusks, rhino horn, pangolin scales and other wildlife products – alive and dead – cross the oceans in container ships and cargo flights for use in traditional medicine, crafts and the illegal pet trade. Rare trees are felled in ancient forests and shipped out under false certificates.

They leave behind the butchered carcasses of the last remaining animals of many species, scarred and emptied landscapes, legal livelihoods undermined by corruption and criminal activity, and communities ravaged by organised crime networks.

Given the vast dimensions of the multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade (IWT), it may be surprising that until recently, global efforts to tackle IWT came mainly from the conservation sector. This has typically consisted of numerous donor-funded efforts to catch poachers and raise public awareness of the plight of endangered species.

Valuable as those efforts are, they do little to impact the organised crime networks, corruption and illicit financial flows that allow the lucrative illegal trade in wildlife products to continue.

High-profile law enforcement operations against illegal wildlife trade (IWT), such as Interpol’s Operation Thunderball in July and the arrest of notorious trafficker Moazu Kromah in Uganda in June, have drawn welcome attention to IWT as a financial and organised crime and not only a conservation issue.

Yet in working to strengthen legal frameworks and law enforcement capacity in countries that suffer from high levels of IWT, we must not forget the social drivers and facilitators behind wildlife trafficking – factors that laws alone are powerless to change.

Industry leaders committed to tackling wildlife crime gathered at St. James's Palace today for a high-level joint meeting of the United for Wildlife Taskforces.

The UfW Transport and Financial Taskforces, an initiative of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, bring together major transport companies and financial institutions from around the world with law enforcement and experts in illegal wildlife trade (IWT). 

Given the vast dimensions of the multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade (IWT), it may be surprising that until recently, global efforts to tackle IWT came mainly from the conservation sector. This has typically consisted of numerous donor-funded efforts to catch poachers and raise public awareness of the plight of endangered species.

Valuable as those efforts are, they do little to impact the organised crime networks, corruption and illicit financial flows that allow the lucrative illegal trade in wildlife products to continue.

One of the most serious security threats posed by poaching and wildlife trafficking may also be one of the least well documented: their relationship with organised crime.

To shed light on the subject, this chapter analyses the most common narratives on the link between poaching, wildlife trafficking and organised crime – and the security threat this link poses in African source and transit countries.