Winning big against wildlife crime in 2021

If 2020 was a shock to the system, 2021 was all about adaptation. The Covid-19 pandemic shook our world – and our world view. How we live and work has changed – possibly forever – but it has also highlighted the urgency of our mission. Disrupting and dismantling the criminal networks driving wildlife crime has never been more critical. As an organisation, 2021 was our most successful year since our founding in 2015. Much of our efforts in previous years came to fruition, and we played a crucial role in major arrests in Thailand and Nigeria.

Disrupting transnational organised crime networks

Our results this year speak for themselves: we facilitated the arrest of 32 suspects and disrupted 10 organised crime networks trafficking wildlife.

Joint operation in Thailand

In February, during a joint operation with the Royal Thai Police and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Bangkok, a suspected high-level wildlife trafficker was arrested whilst attempting to supply a leopard cub to a WJC undercover operative. The seized leopard cub was handed over to the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation where it is making excellent progress in a rehabilitation centre.

After the initial arrest the Royal Thai Police investigation continued with an additional two suspects being arrested and further enquiries being made in relation to anti-money laundering offences. The WJC also continued our own investigation and we have linked the suspect to an extended transnational criminal network operating across South and Southeast Asia which specialise in the trafficking of big cats and primates. This arrest was the culmination of five years of investigations by our undercover investigators and crime analysts, who will be providing evidence for the Thai prosecution of the high-level wildlife trafficker. We also wish to acknowledge the great work of the Royal Thai Police and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Joint operation in Nigeria

In July and September, acting on intelligence provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission, Nigeria Customs Service arrested five suspects and seized 211 sacks containing 8.1 tonnes of pangolin scales, 9.6 kg of pangolin claws and 870 kg of ivory in Lagos. All wildlife products were destined for export. This is the ninth largest seizure of pangolin scales since 2019 but importantly the first where major traffickers have been arrested.

The seized 8.1 tonnes of pangolin scales account for approximately 17,500 dead pangolins.

In both joint operations, the arrested individuals are suspected of involvement in a well-known transnational criminal network operating in West Africa, linked to more than 50% of the major ivory and pangolin seizures that occurred globally between 2018-2021. These arrests have seriously hampered the activities of this network and we would like to acknowledge the great work of the Nigerian Customs Service in these cases.

Several other major WJC operations were successful resulting in the seizure of ivory, rhino horn and firearms, however we are unable to elaborate further as some cases are before the court or they are part of larger ongoing transnational investigations.

The value of intelligence analysis

In addition to our efforts on the ground, we produced an impressive array of intelligence reports, delivering detailed insights to law enforcement and policy makers. These are our four public reports of this year:

Moreover, we organised a well-received webinar, Crime Convergence: Intelligent Approaches to Organised Crime, where a panel of experts examined how addressing crime convergence can offer strategic advantages in the fight against wildlife crime and other serious and organised crimes.

Expanding our reach

After the wheels of international diplomacy ground to a halt in 2020, postponed events slowly gathered steam again this year. The Wildlife Justice Commission continued urging governments to scale up the fight against wildlife crime.

We participated virtually in the UN Crime Congress, attending the special event “The Nature of Corruption: Addressing corruption Linked to Wildlife, Forest and Fisheries Crime”. At UNGASS, we co-hosted a side event “Leveraging the best tools to address environmental crime enabled by corruption”. At the recent UNCAC conference, we organised a side event, focussing on best practices for law enforcement fighting corruption-enabled environmental crime. Of particular excitement for us was the IUCN Congress, where we officially launched our work on fisheries crime.

Strengthening alliances and joining new partnerships

Working alongside like-minded allies is the best way to tackle the global issue of wildlife crime.

We are proud to expand our partnerships with the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) and the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS). The Wildlife Justice Commission and IACA organised two virtual panel discussions on the correlation of environmental crime and corruption.

ACAMS, WWF and the Wildlife Justice Commission launched a free training module to aid law enforcement officials in the use of financial intelligence and other data when initiating and expanding investigations into the illegal wildlife trade.

This year, we joined the Nature Crime Alliance, and formed a new partnership with Transparency International to work together against corruption.

Our work is only possible thanks to our generous donors and partners. The Dutch Postcode Lottery awarded the Wildlife Justice Commission a EUR 1.9 million grant for a three-year project aiming to build and strengthen intelligence capacity to fight wildlife crime in protected areas of Southeast Asia. We were also honoured to receive a EUR1 million grant from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Thank you!

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all of our supporters for their generosity and dedication to our shared mission of wildlife justice. Thanks to you, we were able to make 2021 our most successful year so far. With you at our side, we can make 2022 even more productive, even more impactful, and even more just.