This module is a resource for lecturers


Criminal justice actors and agencies


Law enforcement authorities

The enforcement of laws, including offences, relating to wildlife trafficking is for the most part a matter for national agencies (Nurse, 2015). The criminal justice response to wildlife trafficking usually involves several government sectors, departments, and entities. Several jurisdictions divide the responsibilities for investigating wildlife trafficking between multiple agencies depending on the stage of the investigation or the kind or seriousness of the offences involved (UNODC, 2018). In many jurisdictions, responsibilities in relation to combating and preventing wildlife trafficking is spread between multiple organizations or institutions, which makes national coordination and cooperation particularly important. Furthermore, responsibilities and powers need to be clearly assigned and delineated to give certainty about 'who is who' and 'who does what' in this area (UNODC, 2012; UNODC, 2018). Actors and agencies typically involved in the criminal justice response to wildlife trafficking include the following:

Natural resources, forestry, agriculture, fisheries, national parks, and environment departments

Specialized government departments, such as ministries of forestry, agriculture, natural resources, or the environment usually have particular functions and responsibilities dealing with certain aspects pertaining to wildlife trafficking. Respective officers, such as park rangers, forestry inspectors, wildlife officers, fishery inspectors, environment inspectors, and quarantine officers are typically involved in the detection and identification of wildlife-related offences (Nurse, 2015; UNODC, 2018; Wyatt, 2013). The mandate of these agencies and the powers of such officials is usually (and should be) spelled out in domestic law.This includes powers to conduct investigations, collect and seize evidence, question suspects, prepare case files, et cetera (UNODC, 2018).

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Tuvalu, wildlife wardens

In Tuvalu, wildlife wardens are used to exercise control and law enforcement duties for the purpose of wildlife conservation. The powers of wildlife wardens are set out in section 11 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2008 and include:

(1) In addition to the powers conferred on a private person by section 21 of the Criminal Procedure Code Act a wildlife warden may, without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant, arrest —

(a) any person whom he suspects upon reasonable grounds of having committed an offence under this Act;

(b) any person who obstructs a wildlife warden while in the execution of his duty or who has escaped or attempts to escape from the lawful custody of a wildlife warden;

(c) any person in whose possession any creature or thing is found with reference to which he may reasonably be suspected of having committed an offence under this Act.

(2) Whenever a person is arrested by a wildlife warden and the warden has reasonable grounds for believing that that person has about his person —

(a) any instruments connected with the kind of offence under this Act which he is alleged to have committed; or

(b) any other articles which may furnish evidence against him in regard to the offence under this Act he is alleged to have committed, the warden may search that person and place in safe custody all property other than necessary wearing apparel found upon him and shall without unnecessary delay deliver that property to a police officer.

(3) The right to search an arrested person under this section shall not include the right to examine his private person.

(4) Where any property has been taken from a person under this section and the person is not charged before any court but is released on the ground that there is no sufficient reason to believe that he has committed any offence, any property so taken from him shall be restored to him.

(5) Any wildlife warden who has reason to suspect that any creature or article in respect of which an offence under this Act has been, is being or is about to be committed, is being conveyed, whether on any person or in any vehicle, package or otherwise, or is concealed or carried on any person in a public place or concealed or contained in any vehicle or package in a public place for the purpose of being conveyed, may, without warrant or other written authority, detain and search any such person, vehicle or package and may take possession of and detain any such creature or article in respect of which he may reasonably suspect that an offence under this Act has been, is being or is about to be committed, together with the package, if any, containing it and may also detain the person conveying, concealing or carrying such creature or article.


In the absence of any specialized authority, police are responsible for the investigation of wildlife trafficking (Runhovde, 2016; Nurse, 2015; Tomkins, 2005; UNODC, 2018). Police may also be called upon to conduct specialized investigative measures or exercise advanced functions that are outside the mandate of wildlife officials or other agencies (UNODC, 2018). Relevant law enforcement officers may include personnel from national, regional, and/or local police, specialized police units with responsibility for wildlife trafficking, economic and financial crime, crime scene and forensic investigations, telecommunications, undercover operations, et cetera (UNODC, 2018; UNODC, 2012). Some police organizations join forces with other government agencies, such as the Blue Rhino Task Team formed in Namibia in 2018. The Blue Rhino Task Team is a dedicated, multi-agency unit for quick responses to poaching incidents.

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Solomon Islands, law enforcement of crimes relating to the environment

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) has general duties and powers to prevent the commission of and enforce crimes in Solomon Islands. This includes environmental crimes. Environmental crimes in the Solomon Islands can also be enforced by several government bodies and agencies which includes, inter alia:

  • The Ministry of Environment, Conservation, Climate Change and Disaster Management which is responsible for the Environment Act 1998, Environmental Regulations 2008, Protected Areas Act 2010, Protected Areas Regulations 2012, Wildlife Protection and Management Act 1998, and the Wildlife Protection and Management Regulations 2008.
  • The Ministry of Forestry and Research which is responsible for the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act (Cap 40), Forest Resources and Timber (Prescribed Forms) Regulations, Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation (Felling Licences) Regulations 2005, Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation (Protected Species) Regulations 2012, Timber (Levy and Mill Licensing) Regulations 2005, and the Revised Solomon Islands Code of Logging Practice 2002.
  • The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources which is responsible for the Fisheries Management Act 2015.

The relevant Ministry usually has the power to appoint specific authorised officers for the purposes of enforcing their legislation. In addition, the Protected Areas Act 2010 gives enforcement powers to ‘rangers’, who are members of the local community. RSIPF and Ministry officers are usually given certain powers with respect to the enforcement of environmental crime. The nature of these powers depends on the relevant law, but generally the powers include the power to inspect, search and seize, and in some cases the power of arrest.

(Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, 2015)


In many jurisdictions, the role of Customs evolved from traditional revenue collection responsibilities to an increasingly important role in the detection and investigation of wildlife and forest crime (Wyatt, 2013; see also, Polner, 2015). Customs agencies may come into contact with wildlife trafficking at ports, airports, and land borders. They are generally mandated to detect and identify wildlife trafficking at these locations by specific customs laws or similar legislation (UNODC, 2018; see also, de Klemm, 1993). Further, Customs officers often play an important role in special investigations, such as investigations involving controlled deliveries (UNODC, 2018). Accordingly, relevant officials need to be adequately trained and equipped with the relevant powers to conduct investigations, prepare file cases, and collect and seize evidence. Some countries have specialized customs units to detect wildlife trafficking (UNODC, 2018; see also, Wyatt, 2013). Nevertheless, the detection of wildlife trafficking is often a lower priority for customs officials compared to other crime types such as drug or arms trafficking.

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Fiji, Revenue and Customs Service – Department of the Environment partnership

Enforcement of CITES requirements and detection of wildlife crime in Fiji is primarily undertaken through inspections conducted by inspection units of Fiji Customs at the border. Inspections are based on risk profiles, although due to the volume of trade the units are only set up in the major ports of Suva and Lautoka, and Nadi Airport (Fiji Customs 2011). Domestically, the Fiji Island CITES Management Authority (FICMA) also conducts inspections at stores (particularly aquarium companies) and handicraft centres. To assist enforcement efforts, Fiji has conducted capacity-building programs for relevant government officers, including training on CITES enforcement and the development of a CITES guidance manual for enforcement officers. In October 2021, the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service and the Department of Environment forged a new partnership to combat the trafficking in fauna and flora at Fiji’s borders. This partnership involves, among other things, CITES training for Customs Border Control Officers and is a recognition that coordination and partnership building is essential to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

(Horne 2013, Singh 2021)

Coast guards

As with Customs, civilian coast guards, where they do exist, may come into contact with instances of wildlife trafficking and, in some jurisdictions, have a mandate to investigate such cases and question suspects (UNODC, 2012).

Prosecution and judicial authorities

Prosecution authorities and, in some jurisdictions, judges, oversee aspects of the investigation of wildlife trafficking and are involved in the application for, and issue of, warrants and the authorization to use certain special investigative techniques (UNODC, 2018). Depending on the legal tradition of the country, prosecutors and judges may have wide discretion when dealing with a wildlife trafficking case. Sentencing plays a pivotal role in the public perception of the severity of the crime.

Other agencies and officials

Depending on the jurisdiction, other government agencies, such as the military, may exercise functions where they encounter wildlife trafficking. The specific role and mandate of such agencies and their staff in the investigation of wildlife trafficking will depend on domestic law and administrative arrangements. Other specialized agencies such as financial investigation units, anti-corruption commissions, and tax revenue authorities may also have a role in this context (UNODC, 2018).

Private sector involvement

In some jurisdictions, private sector organizations exercise functions that, directly or indirectly, relate to the enforcement of laws against wildlife trafficking (Nurse, 2013). This may also involve private firms and individuals who provide security in national parks or other designated places (Nurse, 2015; Nurse, 2013; DLA Piper, 2014; UNODC, 2012). More and more, national agencies are opening up to cooperation with the private sector and civil society (Nurse, 2013; Polner, 2015; see also Khooshie Lal Panjabi, 2014).

Civil society, community policing

Local people who live in or near protected areas, national parks, or game reserves where wildlife may be poached, where plants may be harvested, or where illegal logging occurs play a vital role in the detection of, and the fight against wildlife trafficking.

The involvement of local communities and civil society is a vital part of any strategy to detect and prevent wildlife trafficking and is increasingly recognized in national policies and international strategies. Practical measures that involve civil society, especially rural communities, include, inter alia, community conservancies, community-run anti-poaching units, and other forms of community policing (Hübschle & Shearing, 2018; Ratsimbazafy et al, 2018). Other strategies aim to build communities that are resilient to poaching and wildlife trafficking, that create incentives to report and prevent such crime, and improve rural livelihoods and reduce the demand for wildlife contraband in rural and urban areas (Hübschle & Shearing, 2018; Bukhi Mabele, 2017).

Example: Rhino protection in Nepal

Like their African relatives, Asian rhinoceros are frequently targeted by poachers. The vast majority of Nepal's rhinos live in Chitwan National Park. In the 1990s, Nepalese conservation authorities reached out to local communities to actively involve them in protecting rhinos and conservation areas. Nepal's Buffer Zone Management Regulation of 1996 granted rights to local communities to manage and use natural resources within such areas. A management committee consisting of elected community representatives decides on the development activities implemented in these zones. Park authorities share approximately one third of the park's revenue with communities that live adjacent to protected areas. Over the years, these initiatives have made a real impact and have local residents deeply invested in managing and caring for protected areas and, importantly, have made a substantial contribution to greater protection of Nepal's rhino population.

(Hübschle & Shearing, 2018)

Example: Community-based natural resource management in Namibia

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is a rigorous process of institutional reform that combines the devolution and delineation of property rights with collective action in rural communities to improve the value and sustainability of wild resources. Since 2000, Namibia's national CBNRM programme has led the way in the region by devolving wildlife use rights and all benefits to self-defined communities. This established community conservancies, and local government was bypassed to avoid district councils absorbing a disproportionate share of wildlife revenues. The programme is well organized and has resulted in a rapid increase in registered and emerging conservancies. An additional benefit has been the demonstrable recovery of wildlife populations including endangered species. The rapid growth of the concept has required a new system of governance based on bottom-up accountability and high levels of local participation.

(Child & Barnes, 2010)

Regional and specialized law enforcement initiatives

Several regional specialized initiatives have been set up to tackle particular aspects of wildlife trafficking or to focus on particular geographical areas.

The Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) processes, for instance, are regional initiatives coordinated by the World Bank and organized in cooperation with governments of consumer countries. Thus far, regional FLEG processes have been set up for Africa, North Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Latin America (Strydom, 2016; UNODC, 2012). The objectives of the FLEG processes are to improve governance in the forest sector and to foster international dialogue and cooperation to fight illegal logging and trade by improving linkages and harmonizing regulations (UNODC, 2012).

Regional ‘wildlife enforcement networks’ (WENs) have been set up to facilitate cross-border cooperation between agencies involved in preventing and suppressing wildlife trafficking. These include the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HAWEN), the North American Wildlife Enforcement Group (NAWEG), the European Union Wildlife Trade Enforcement Group (established by Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97 of 9 December 1996 on the protection of species of wild fauna and flora by regulating trade therein, OJ L 61, 3 March 1997), and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) (Strydom, 2016; UNODC, 2012; see also, Wyatt, 2013), which was merged with the ASEAN working group on CITES to the ASEAN Working Group on CITES and Wildlife Enforcement (AWG CITES & WE). Similarly, a task force has been set up through the Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora to facilitate cooperative activities among national agencies in carrying out investigations on wildlife trafficking. The task force comprises law enforcement from States Parties as well as locally recruited support staff.

The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) comprises the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization (WCO). The Consortium was established to support national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to stimulate a coordinated law enforcement response to environmental crime, helping to deliver on-the-ground action and to ensure transnational organized criminal groups are identified and disrupted (UNODC, 2012; Scanlon & Farroway, 2016). ICCWC organizes global meetings of the wildlife enforcement networks to promote the sharing of information on best practices and lessons learned about the establishment and functioning of the wildlife enforcement networks (ICCWC, 2016; see also Wyatt, 2013).

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Horn of Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Network (HAWEN)

In 2011, the countries of the Horn of Africa agreed to join forces in their fight against wildlife trafficking. In October 2012, the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HAWEN) was initiated in Addis Ababa. HAWEN facilitates information sharing and intelligence gathering, as well as law enforcement monitoring. Furthermore, it provides a platform for joint capacity development, evidence handling and legal prosecution of wildlife crime cases. Additionally, collaborating with other WENs is a key activity of HAWEN.

The countries committed to HAWEN are: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

(CITES, undated).

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Regional police cooperation

Southern Africa has established regional police cooperation in order to address regional and transnational organized crime: The Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Coordination Organisation (SARPCCO). SARPCCO was founded in 1995 and includes members from 16 States. Guiding principles of SARPCCO include, among others, the spirit of mutual cooperation, equality of all Member States, mutual benefit to all Member States, and observance of all human rights.

Throughout the years, SARPCCO has been promoting cooperation and joint strategies among the Member States. Furthermore, the organization facilitated management strategies and developed training modules for law enforcement personnel. It also provides policing recommendations to Member States.

Similarly, Eastern Africa established the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO). INTERPOL partners with both organizations to support Member States addressing cross-border organized crime.

(Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Coordination Organisation, 2019).

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Pacific Transnational Crime Network

In 2002, the Pacific Transnational Crime Network (PTCN) was established to create a ‘police-led proactive and investigative capability to combat transnational crime in the Pacific through a multi-agency and regional approach.’ The Network comprises ‘Transnational Crime Units’ in 20 Pacific Islands States. These units are centrally coordinated by the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre (PTCCC) based in Apia, Samoa. The PTCCC mostly serves to facilitate information sharing through person-to-person and agency-to-agency contacts and through a secure database. Its main purpose is to build partnerships between law enforcement agencies in the Pacific and for capacity development. The PTCCC also produces the PTCN Transnational Crime Assessment, an annual intelligence report on cross-border criminal activities in the region. The report comprises broad operational-level information as well as strategic intelligence-informed forecasts or preeminent transnational crime trends impacting the region, and as such is not publicly-available.

(Schloenhardt, 2021)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Samoa, National Ocean Steering Committee

In 2020, the Samoan Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment presented the first Samoan Ocean Strategy which outlines a pathway towards sustainable management of Samoa’s ocean and marine resources. The Strategy defines prioritized thematic areas that encompass the ecological, cultural, and socioeconomic values that Samoans derive from their ocean. To safeguard these values, key problems, or threats to the current health status of the ocean are identified.

The two main threats related to fishing activities that are impacting offshore waters, marine coastal ecosystems, and species are unsustainable extraction, fishing equipment and methods, and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities. Key contributing factors lie in limited resources which include the lack of funds and capacity to sustain effective enforcement of existing regulations. Samoa’s equipment, technology, and staff capacities are poor. Other important contributing factors include the lack of awareness and knowledge, and ineffective rules and regulations for the protection of endangered species.

Samoa’s Ocean Strategy identifies integrated management solutions required to reduce impact of the identified threats and advance effective ocean stewardship. Establishing a National Ocean Steering Committee (NOSC) is an essential overarching governance need for the Strategy. Membership of the NOSC will include senior representatives drawn from all key relevant Ministries with mandated responsibility of maritime affairs and marine resource management plus a representative from Samoa Umbrella for Non-Governmental Organisation (SUNGO). A key initial step in the process of establishing the NOSC is the nomination of an independent Ministry to chair the committee.

The detailed governance and reporting lines of the NOSC remain to be confirmed. It is anticipated that the existing responsibilities and reporting structure for existing national marine-related committees and working groups are modified to report into the NOSC. This should improve alignment of all activities regarding Samoa’s ocean.

Key responsibilities for the NOSC include but are not limited to:

  • Coordinate, monitor and evaluate implementation of the Samoa Ocean Strategy;
  • Identify and support lead agencies responsible for the various aspects of implementation including planning, consultation, monitoring, compliance, enforcement and review;
  • Establish clear lines of communication to support coordination and engagement of all stakeholders at all levels;
  • Clarify where necessary responsibilities are attributed to the different agencies dealing with ocean affairs; and
  • Encourage participation of both public and private institutions, non-governmental and governmental organisations, and civil societies in the Strategy implementation.

The Committee will seek to establish a Technical Working Group composed of technical officials of Ministries, inter-governmental and non-governmental agencies approved by the NOSC to provide technical support to inform the coordination and implementation of the Strategy on the ground. The NOSC will operate transparently and engage in inclusive decision-making which embraces and welcomes inputs and suggestions from national civil societies organizations, academia, and regional entities. 

(Samoa Government, 2020)


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