Reaching new milestones against wildlife crime in 2023

2023 was an outstanding year for the Wildlife Justice Commission, marked by significant achievements. Our unwavering commitment to disrupt and help dismantle transnational criminal networks involved in wildlife trafficking led to notable successes in countries such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Indonesia, and Malaysia, where we played a crucial role in facilitating substantial arrests. We considerably extended our global reach and continued sharing our expertise with law enforcement, policy makers, and practitioners worldwide.

Keeping the pressure on transnational criminal networks

Our results this year speak for themselves: we facilitated the arrest of 25 suspects, including high-level individuals, and corrupt officials who facilitate their operations, successfully disrupting the operations of at least 10 different criminal networks. Below we give an overview of major cases we can publicly report on.

Joint operation in Malaysia

In July, we conducted a joint operation with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) which resulted in the arrest of 12 suspects, including two customs officers and a high-level suspect, and the seizure of 1.8 tonnes pangolin scales and luxury vehicles with an estimated value of over USD 5 million. This operation targeted an international pangolin scale trafficking syndicate believed to have bribed customs officers and freight forwarders to allow them to take seized wildlife contraband meant for disposal from a Customs Department warehouse, fake its destruction, and sell them to buyers. The syndicate is also believed to be involved in money laundering. We acknowledge MACC’s dedication to rooting out corruption and its quick response to time-sensitive intelligence.

Major arrests and prosecutions in Nigeria

In September, in a joint intelligence-led operation with the Wildlife Justice Commission, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) arrested Mr. Felix Maiva in connection with the January 2021 seizure of illegal wildlife products from Apapa Port, Nigeria, which was bound for Haiphong, Vietnam. Maiva is suspected of being part of a major transnational criminal network in West Africa, and his apprehension is part of a series of arrests disrupting this network.

Beyond arrests, we support our law enforcement partners in preparing for the prosecution of the individuals arrested. In July, three Vietnamese high-ranking members of an organised crime group involved in the trafficking of ivory, pangolin scales, rhino horn, and lion bones from Nigeria, Mozambique and South Africa to Vietnam were convicted for wildlife trafficking. The accused had been arrested by the NCS in 2022, acting on information provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission. This success story and our achievements in disrupting wildlife trafficking in partnership with the NCS were featured on the BBC.

Sharing the findings of our investigative and intelligence work

The Wildlife Justice Commission aims to keep law enforcement and policymakers informed through the publication of public and intelligence reports, offering comprehensive insights into our investigative and intelligence activities. We published two public reports in 2023:

Expanding our global reach

Throughout 2023, the Wildlife Justice Commission continued sharing its expertise with law enforcement, policy makers and practitioners worldwide.

Our policy work has focused on elevating the attention and prioritisation of wildlife crime in the international political agenda through interventions at high-level international fora and contributions to policymaking documents. At the 32nd Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, we promoted the use of special investigative techniques and joint investigations to address environmental crimes. We were also present at the 10th Session of the UN Convention against Corruption’s Conference of the States Parties, participating as the Wildlife Justice Commission and in our role as Chair of the UNCAC Coalition’s Working Group on Environmental Crime and Corruption (ECC WG). There, we advocated for stronger anti-corruption measures, focusing on transparency, good governance, cooperation, protection, and effective enforcement.

The Wildlife Justice Commission also provided tailored training courses for law enforcement agencies, aiming to promote the use of intelligence and advanced investigative techniques in wildlife crime investigations. In Malaysia, we provided training to the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Departments, aimed at strengthening intelligence gathering and cybercrime investigations. We also supported the refurbishment of the Control Centre of the Serviço Nacional de Investigação Criminal (SERNIC) in Mozambique, enabling intelligence analysts to provide enhanced support for operations. Under the Galvanise Project, funded by the National Postcode Lottery, we continued training intelligence analysts to support the fight against wildlife crime in Lao PDR, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

This year, our work was showcased in three podcasts, including our own “Wildlife Kingpin” podcast series, with a new season focusing on Operation Dragon:  

Finally, in 2023, the Wildlife Justice Commission reached a new milestone by broadening its global footprint and establishing a presence in the United States of America and in Thailand. This expansion marks a pivotal juncture for the Wildlife Justice Commission as we embark on a new chapter to further our mission of disrupting and helping to dismantle the transnational criminal networks trading in wildlife, timber, and fish.

Strengthening alliances and partnerships

Addressing the global issue of wildlife crime is most effectively achieved through cooperative efforts with like-minded allies. In 2023, the Wildlife Justice Commission played an active role in various alliances to facilitate strategic coordination among civil society actors in targeting key stakeholders to influence policy and build political will, including United for Wildlife, the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, the UNCAC Coalition’s ECC WG which we continue to chair, and the Nature Crime Alliance (NCA) as founding members.

Our work would not be possible without our generous donors and partners. This year, we proudly welcomed the UK Government, through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, the Swedish Postcode Foundation, and the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Global to our circle of partners. We are grateful to the many supporters who continued supporting us this year.

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all of our supporters for their generosity and dedication to our shared mission of stopping the destruction of our biodiversity for profit. Your support played a crucial role in our significant achievements in 2023. With your continued dedication, let’s strive for an even more impactful 2024 together.