Wildlife Crime and The Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT): A Call to Action for Environmental Awareness

Submitted by Richard Charlton, Lecturer (School of Criminal Justice) on Wed, 10/04/2023 - 16:12

Have you ever stopped to consider the footprint you leave on our planet? Have you thought how each organism has an ecological niche which, if disturbed, would directly affect the sustainability of the ecosystem. Without any action to prevent wildlife crimes, numerous species face extinction and our very ecosystem is at risk ​(Charlton, 2017)​. In a world where biodiversity is threatened, the illegal trade in wildlife and its products has emerged as a global threat. In this post, we will explore the intricate connections between these issues and the crucial role of environmental awareness in addressing them. 

Imagine standing on the savannahs of Africa, where majestic African elephants roam, its ivory tusks a testament to its grandness. Or picture yourself deep in the lush rainforests of South America, where vibrant parrots and exotic reptiles add a kaleidoscope of colour to the canopy. Now, imagine these scenes in jeopardy, as poachers and traffickers seek to profit from the suffering and demise of these magnificent creatures. Imagine seeing elephants without tusks, rhinos without horns all removed as preventative measures to reduce poaching.  

Understanding Wildlife Crime and the IWT:

To understand the topic, let us first define wildlife crime. Wildlife crime is any illegal activity that is linked to the exploitation, trafficking, or consumption of flora and fauna, which includes activities such as hunting, fishing, poaching, logging, illegal harvesting, and habitat destruction (Nurse, 2015; Moreto, et al., 2020; Pires & Olah, 2022). These activities have devastating consequences for animals, ecosystems, and human societies. In a world that is teeming with life, our planets rich biodiversity is both a source of wonder and a delicate web of interdependence. Yet, beneath the awe-inspiring beauty of nature lies a shadowy area where human greed threatens the very existence of countless species.  

Wildlife crime and trafficking rank among the most lucrative illicit international industries ​(Moreto & Pires, 2018)​ and it is estimated that the Illegal Wildlife Trade's (IWT) worth falls between US$ 7 billion and US$ 23 billion annually (Nellemann, et al., 2016; Duffy, 2022; WWF, 2019). IWT is a profitable black-market enterprise that involves the buying, selling, and exchange of wildlife and their products, such as ivory, rhino horns, and exotic pets, in violation of international and national laws. These activities have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems and biodiversity where species are driven to the brink of extinction, ecosystems are disrupted, and the delicate balance of nature is disturbed. IWT is not just a criminal issue; it is an environmental crisis with far-reaching implications. 

Yet, amid this sobering reality, there shines a beacon of hope: environmental awareness. Environmental awareness, at its core, involves an understanding of the interconnectedness of all living beings and the recognition of our responsibility to protect the environment. It is the knowledge that the survival of species, including our own, is intricately tied to the health of our planet. 

The Power of Environmental Awareness: 

Firstly, environmental awareness helps shed light on the magnitude of the problem. Many people remain unaware of the scale of the IWT and its devastating impact. By educating individuals about the extent of the problem, we can motivate them to take a stand against this problem. Through documentaries, news reports, and social media campaigns, environmental organisations can illustrate the gravity of the situation, educating people and getting them to care about the protection of endangered species. 

When people are educated about the IWT, they can make conscientious decisions about the products they purchase and the activities they support. For instance, consumers can avoid buying products made from endangered species, such as ivory, rhino horn or tiger bone, when they understand the consequences of their purchases. Additionally, tourists can choose to visit wildlife sanctuaries and conservation projects instead of participating in activities that exploit animals. Educating society also allows citizens to get involved by reporting these illegal activities and helping law enforcement agencies combat IWT effectively. Community engagement and education is also important. Local communities living near areas with endangered wildlife can be instrumental in protecting these species. Environmental awareness can empower these communities to take action and function as a deterrent to poachers and traffickers. 

Another key aspect of environmental awareness is its role in fostering responsibility. When people recognise the role they can play in protecting wildlife and their habitats, they are more likely to take action. This can range from supporting conservation organisations financially to volunteering their time to participate in conservation efforts. Environmentally conscious individuals often become advocates for change, pressuring governments, and businesses to enforce stricter regulations and combat IWT successfully. 

Environmental awareness is also a catalyst for policy change and often advocates for stronger environmental laws and regulations. When people act together, they demand action from their governments for change. This pressure leads to the creation of new laws and policies aimed at curbing the IWT. For example, increased awareness has prompted many countries to strengthen their legislation against wildlife trafficking and improve enforcement measures. 

Furthermore, environmental awareness transcends borders. It unites people from diverse backgrounds and cultures in a common cause. This global solidarity is essential in tackling an issue as complex and far-reaching as the IWT. International cooperation and coordination become more achievable when a shared sense of environmental responsibility prevails. In this context, it is notable that the British Royal Family has been actively engaged in advocating for the protection of wildlife and the fight against the IWT ​(The Royal Household, 2023)​. Their high-profile initiatives and patronage of conservation organisations not only raise awareness but also demonstrate how a shared sense of environmental responsibility can extend to the highest echelons of society, transcending national boundaries and inspiring collective action on a global scale. 

Concluding Thoughts:

In the face of this global crisis, environmental awareness is not a passive concept but a call to action. It empowers individuals, communities, and nations to stand together in defence of our planet's precious biodiversity. It drives demand reduction, influences legislation, fosters community engagement, supports scientific research, encourages public reporting, and promotes international cooperation. The illicit trade in wildlife may seem like a distant problem, but its consequences are far-reaching, affecting ecosystems, species, and even the stability of communities that rely on these natural resources. Cultivating environmental awareness is our path to a future where humans harmoniously coexist with Earth's rich tapestry of life. Together, we can combat wildlife crime and the IWT, protecting the irreplaceable wonders of our natural world for generations to come. 



​​Charlton, R. W., (2017). Death and Destruction: Insight into the Rhino Poaching Epidemic in South Africa. Thesis (MSc): Illinois State University. 

​Duffy, R., (2022). Crime, Security, and Illegal Wildlife Trade: Political Ecologies of International Conservation. Global Environmental Politics, pp. 23-44. 

​Moreto, W. D., Charlton, R. W., DeWitt, S. E. & Burton, C. M., (2020). The Convergence of CAPTURED Fish and People: Examining the Symbiotic Nature of Labor Trafficking and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Deviant Behavior, 41(6), pp. 733-749. 

​Moreto, W. D. & Pires, S. F., (2018). Wildlife Crime: An Environmental Criminology and Crime Science Perspective. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. 

​Nellemann, C., Henriksen, R., Kreilhuber, A., Stewart, D., Kotsovou, M., Raxter, P., Mrema, E. & Barrat, S., (2016). The Rise of Environ mental Crime – A Growing Threat To Natural Resources Peace, Development And Security: A UNEP-INTERPOL Rapid Response Assessment, Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme. 

​Nurse, A., (2015). An Introduction to Green Criminology and Environmental Justice. London: SAGE Publications. 

​Pires, S. F. & Olah, G., (2022). Wildlife Crime: Issues and Promising Solutions. Animals, 12(14), pp. 1736-1740. 

​The Royal Household, (2023). Combatting the illegal wildlife trade. [Online]  
Available at: https://www.royal.uk/combatting-illegal-wildlife-trade 
[Accessed 20 September 2023]. 

​WWF, (2019). Stopping the Illegal Wildlife Trade. [Online]  
Available at: https://www.wwf.org.uk/what-we-do/stopping-illegal-wildlife-trade 
[Accessed 20 September 2023]. 

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