World Wildlife Crime Report 2020: Trafficking in protected species


This report was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on July 10, 2020. It discusses wildlife crime – a lucrative global trade – and measures countries can take to tackle it.

Wildlife crime is defined as the harvesting and trade of wild terrestrial animals, fish, trees, and other flora, in contravention of national laws, particularly those implemented in keeping with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES; a multilateral treaty adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature on March 3, 1973).

The report uses data from UNODC’s World Wildlife Seizure (World WISE) database of roughly 180,000 seizures from 149 countries, which draws on annual seizure reports received from Parties to the Convention. Through case studies, the report presents the recent changes in the sourcing, transit and selling of illegal wildlife.

The 134-page publication has eight chapters – including an introduction (Chapter 1) – covering the illegal trade of rosewood timber (Chapter 2), African elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns (Chapter 3), pangolin scales (Chapter 4), live reptiles (Chapter 5), big cats (Chapter 6) as well as European glass eels (Chapter 7). The report also examines the global flow of money created from the illegal trade of ivory and rhino horn (Chapter 8).


  1. The supply chain of illegal wildlife trade usually consists of six levels: poachers, runners or brokers, intermediaries, exporters, importers and retail traders.

  2. When measures to curb wildlife trafficking only target the supply of such products, their demand and prices go up, compelling traffickers to find alternative sources and reap higher profits. Often, this means moving operations to countries with weaker anti-trafficking laws, or shifting to species resembling the ones in demand.

  3. Much of the illegal trade in wildlife is moving from physical markets to online platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and This shift is especially being seen in markets for live reptiles.

  4. Wildlife cargoes that are seized before they successfully reach their destination can be used to detect illicit trafficking chains. The World WISE database is among the largest records for tracking parties involved in illegal wildlife trade.

  5. World WISE data indicates that China and Vietnam are the main destinations for trafficked rosewood. In China, the share of rosewood imports from Africa has consistently increased over the last decade. It is suspected that a portion of these imports have been illegally sourced, says the report.

  6. As per a 2017 study conducted in 22 cities in China, the demand for high-value, large ivory pieces is being replaced by that for smaller items like jewellery. The prices of both raw ivory and rhino horn have decreased considerably since 2014 because of stricter laws in countries like China, Thailand and the US.

  7. The amount of pangolin scales seized increased tenfold from 2014 to 2018. World WISE data indicates that 71 per cent of the pangolin cargo seized between 2007 and 2018 was being transported to China, and 19 per cent was headed to Vietnam. The report states that the demand for pangolins in Asia is largely being met by African exports.

  8. Globally, reptile skin is used in fashion industries, their meat or venom is consumed as food or medicine, and live reptiles are even kept as pets. The illegal trade of live reptiles consists primarily of tortoises and freshwater turtles. World WISE data shows that India is the leading source of illegal reptile exports.

  9. Tiger bone is one of the most sought-after products of the illegal tiger trade. Thailand and India are the main sources of shipments caught with ‘whole tiger equivalents’, representing 82 per cent of the seized products (where the shipments’ origins were known) recorded in World WISE data from 2007 to 2018. ‘Whole tiger equivalents’ include live animals, bodies, rugs, skeletons, skins, skulls, as well as trophies, and exclude tigers’ teeth and claws.

  10. World WISE data shows that the primary destination for illegal glass eel cargoes is Asia, which also records the highest volume of legally manufactured eel products. While markets for such products are legal, producers may receive their glass eel stock from illicit sources.

  11. The demand and supply of wildlife sustains an illegal global trade worth millions of dollars. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations aims at reducing illicit financial flows to build peaceful societies.

  12. The report suggests that nations should implement stronger laws against illegal wildlife trafficking; check corruption practices among officials responsible for wildlife management; improve forensic science and better track wildlife supply chains; as well as promote cooperation among relevant private and public agencies at local, national and international levels.

    Focus and Factoids by Dipanjali Singh.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


United Nations


10 Jul, 2020