Winning big against wildlife crime in 2022

As the Covid-19 pandemic slowly subsided and borders opened this year, criminal networks went back to business as usual, resulting in an increase in poaching and trafficking of wildlife and as a result, an increase of seizures. In response, the Wildlife Justice Commission stepped up its fight against transnational organised wildlife crime. Our intelligence-led approach allowed us to secure major arrests in, amongst others, Nigeria, Mozambique and Thailand, to deepen our understanding of the criminal dynamics, and to share our expertise with law enforcement, policy makers, and practitioners across the globe. 

Disrupting organised crime networks

Our work this year continues to focus on the trafficking routes from Africa to Asia. Below we give an overview of major cases we can publicly report on.  

Continued success in Nigeria

One of our biggest successes was the continuation of our partnership with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), which resulted in the arrest of 14 suspects in three separate operations. These arrests included the arrest of three Vietnamese nationals on wildlife crime charges – who are high-ranking members of a major organised crime group involved in the trafficking of ivory and pangolin scales from Nigeria and rhino horn and lion bones from Mozambique and South Africa to Vietnam. The three suspects were in Nigeria actively sourcing pangolin scales when they were arrested by NCS officers.  It is the first time Nigeria is prosecuting Vietnamese nationals for wildlife crime and it is a testament to the commitment of the NCS. 

Various joint operations in Thailand 

In April, a six-months long joint investigation conducted by officers of the Royal Thai Police Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division (NED) and the Wildlife Justice Commission resulted in the arrest of three men suspected of involvement in a big cats trafficking network in Thailand and the Greater Mekong Region. A three-months old tiger cub was found in a box in one of the suspects’ cars. The cub has been named ‘Nong Kwan’ and is now being cared for at the Bueng Chawak Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand.   

The same month, a joint investigation by the NED, the Department of National Parks of Thailand and the Wildlife Justice Commission into wildlife trafficking networks operating from the south of Thailand across the country and the Greater Mekong region resulted in the arrest of a man suspected of trafficking live pangolins and other protected wildlife in the Yala province, in south Thailand, and the seizure of a live pangolin.  

Arrest of a major trafficker “Navara” in Mozambique

In July, the Wildlife Justice Commission provided support to the Serviço Nacional de Investigação Criminal (SERNIC) during the arrest of a well-known rhino horn trafficker, Simon Valoyi, also known as “Navara”. The Wildlife Justice Commission acknowledges the outstanding work of SERNIC in bringing this suspect to justice. For many years “Navara” has had the reputation of being one of the most notorious rhino poaching coordinators in Mozambique. 

Sharing the findings of our investigative and intelligence work

The Wildlife Justice Commission strives to inform law enforcement and policy makers by publishing public reports and intelligence reports, which include detailed insights into our investigative and intelligence work. The Wildlife Justice Commission published four public reports in 2022:  

Our growing impact 

Throughout 2022, the Wildlife Justice Commission continued sharing its expertise with law enforcement, policy makers and practitioners across the globe. 

The Wildlife Justice Commission continued urging policy makers and governments to prioritise the fight against wildlife crime in various international fora. At the UN Ocean Conference, we highlighted the urgency to tackle the trafficking of vulnerable marine species as transnational organised crime and to use the criminal justice approach to protect these species. Our Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman also discussed the importance of addressing the illegal wildlife trade as a serious organised crime, enabled by corruption and its impact on biodiversity, climate change, the economy and rule of law at the United for Wildlife Global Summit. The Wildlife Justice Commission was also present at this year’s CITES CoP19 to advocate for the prioritisation of the use of relevant investigative and intelligence methodologies to address transnational wildlife crime. Our Director of Programs, Steve Carmody presented the recommendations emerging from our recently launched global threat assessment on rhino horn trafficking and gave insights into our latest report on the role captive tiger facilities play in the illegal trade in Southeast Asia. 

The Wildlife Justice Commission also provided tailored training courses for law enforcement agencies and legal professionals in five countries this year to strengthen intelligence-led wildlife crime investigations and effective prosecutions. The Wildlife Justice Commission provided judicial training to prosecutors in Thailand; training to prosecutors and forestry officials in Lao PDR; training to the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Departments in Malaysia; and four training courses for law enforcement agencies in Mozambique and South Africa.  

This year, we also reached out to a wider audience as we produced our own podcast and our work was featured in four other podcasts:  

Thank you! 

Our work is only possible thanks to our generous donors and partners. This year, Oak Foundation awarded the Wildlife Justice Commission a grant of EUR 1,260,000 to support its mission in the coming 3 years, to disrupt and help dismantle the criminal networks that profit from the trafficking of wildlife. We also proudly welcomed the FRED foundation and the UK People’s Postcode Lottery to our circle of donors. We are grateful to the many current donors 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 wildlife justice. Thanks to your support, we were able to achieve great results in 2022. Together, we can make 2023 even more impactful.