What is Environmental Crime

Environmental crime covers all activities that cause significant harm or risk to the environment, human health, or both.

According to a joint UNEP/INTERPOL report, it is the 3rd most lucrative transnational criminal activity today, after narcotic drugs trafficking and counterfeit. It generates up to 281 billion USD worldwide. 5 to 7% increase in earnings every year

The amount of money lost due to environmental crime is 10,000 times greater than the amount of money spent by international agencies on combatting it – just $20-30 million.

Offenses like poaching, trafficking in live or dead endangered animals, illegal logging and illegal fishing are complex phenomena where a variety of factors interact – cultural, social, economic and environmental – and often involve different actors. The causes and the consequences of wildlife crime vary among countries, regions, and local communities, but it always threatens the existence of many plant and animal species, hinders sustainable social and economic development, and has destabilizing effects on society.
Unfortunately, for most countries, combating environmental crime is not a priority and it almost always remains overlooked and poorly understood.
Environmental offences enrich international criminal groups and enable corruption to flourish. Fraud, counterfeiting, money laundering, and violence are often found in combination with various forms of environmental crime. The risk involved is low compared to other kinds of trafficking, like drugs, but the profits are very high.
It is now clear that environmental crime has wide national and international security implications, but governments tend to see the problem as just an environmental issue and the global fight against environmental crime is failing.
As INTERPOL notes, the role of independent NGOs and activists remains crucial:the next big step must be to bridge the divisions that separate law enforcement agencies from the public, the activists, the academics, and the policy makers. If we, the international community, are committed to the conservation of the world’s environment, biodiversity, and natural resources, all five elements must work together in harmony” (INTERPOL, Environmental Crime Programme, 2009).


WILDLIFE CRIME is now the most immediate threat to several species including elephants, rhinos, big cats like tigers and lions, apes, pangolins, reptiles and birds, among many others. This illegal trade is driven by demand for ivory, horn, bones, scales and other parts for carving, ornaments, luxury items, traditional Asian medicines, trophies, wild bushmeat and even live animals for pets and zoos.

In particular, ivory and rhino horn trafficking increasingly involves organized crime syndicates, and in some cases, rebel militia and terrorist groups, with a very heavy Human Toll.

Photo credit: Earth League International (ELI)





Logging01 - EALFOREST CRIME is the illegal logging and the international trade in illegally logged timber, is also a devastating and complex issue. It degrades forests, destroys wildlife habitats, and threatens biodiversity. For example, illegal logging is threatening the survival of elephants in Central Africa and of populations of some of the world’s most endangered primates, including orangutans in Indonesia.

Illegal logging also has a significant Human Toll as it impedes sustainable development in some of the poorest countries of the world. It costs governments billions of dollars, promotes corruption, and funds armed conflict. Finally, forest loss also has implications for climate change.

The causes of illegal logging are various, including weak institutions and regulation, limited resources, and poor law enforcement and border controls. However, consumer countries contribute significantly to these problems by importing timber without ensuring that it is legally sourced. This situation is finally changing, albeit slowly, with legislation enacted in Europe, the U.S., and Australia, barring the import of illegal timber and wood products.

Photo credit: Earth League International (ELI)

San-Felipe-port-1-copyILLEGAL, UNREPORTED and UNREGULATED FISHING (IUU) is found in all types and dimensions of fisheries and it occurs both on the high seas and in areas within national jurisdiction. Experts believe at least 20 percent of the global harvest comes from this “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing. With 90 percent of fish stocks fully depleted or overfished, fleets are increasingly operating illegally in other countries’ exclusive waters and in areas protected by international agreements. 

Photo credit: Earth League International (ELI)

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WildLeaks is a not-for-profit collaborative project created, funded and managed by the Earth League International.

The Mission of WildLeaks is to receive and evaluate anonymous information and tips regarding wildlife crime, including corruption, and transform them into concrete actions.

Please visit the Earth League International for more information on our activities: www.earthleagueinternational.org