This module is a resource for lecturers


Investigation measures and detection methods


The main measures traditionally employed by law enforcement agencies in relation to the investigation of offences include search and seizure of property, arrest and questioning, and covert operations (such as surveillance, controlled delivery, and undercover activities). In some instances, special investigative measures have been created for the investigation of wildlife trafficking. Depending on where wildlife and forest offences are legislated in domestic law, and depending on the authorities in charge, investigation measures and detection methods may be found in different types of statutes. This may include, for instance, general statutes concerning criminal procedure or police powers, customs laws, or specific statutes relating to wildlife, forest, or other environmental matters (UNODC, 2012).

Typically, such legislation sets out the scope and the requirements for specific methods. This usually also involves a range of procedural checks and balances that are implicit in the granting of a particular power. It is rare that law enforcement agencies are given a power that does not have some express limitations (UNODC, 2012). Authorities charged with law enforcement must make sure that they strictly act within these limitations, otherwise the collected evidence may be inadmissible. Generally, investigative measures have to be permitted by law, and the principle of proportionality has to be observed. In most jurisdictions, investigation measures can only be employed when there is reasonable cause to examine whether a criminal offence has been committed (UNODC, 2012).

The following section highlights some of the most common and most important methods used in the investigation of wildlife and forest crimes.

Intelligence gathering

Law enforcement is increasingly led by intelligence. This involves, inter alia, the collation, analysis and dissemination of information, and provides a systematic approach to critical thinking, which, in turn, can assist in the prevention and suppression of criminal activities. Intelligence-led investigations are more effective than speculative or reactive methods (on this topic, also see Module 8 of the Module Series on Organized Crime). In the field of wildlife trafficking, however, intelligence is often missing or non-existent which restricts the abilities of agencies to coordinate and implement well-informed responses to individual cases or general initiatives (UNODC, 2012; World Bank, 2018).

To be of maximum value, intelligence gathering activities should focus simultaneously on strategic and tactical levels. Strategic intelligence is intelligence that enables accurate assessments of the levels and patterns of wildlife trafficking at local, national, and international levels. Strategic intelligence facilitates law reform, international cooperation, and the development of prevention strategies, education and awareness campaigns. Tactical intelligence is intelligence about the activities of specific individuals or groups. It can help identify criminals, give advance information about their activities and help plan proactive, disruptive, and further intelligence-led investigations. In the context of wildlife trafficking, it can involve issues such as methods of sourcing wildlife, timber, and plants, methods of transportation, methods of document fraud, means of communication, financial transactions, motives, markets, prices, et cetera.

While it is important to gather information from a wide range of sources, it is likely that the information will vary in quality and sources will vary in reliability and motivation. It is thus essential that information is subjected to some form of analysis and grading before it is disseminated or used. Intelligence analysis software can be very helpful in this context (World Bank, 2018). Once gathered and analysed, intelligence must be transmitted to the individuals and departments that are able to use it. A vital factor in the expeditious and effective exchange of intelligence is the speed at which material can be transmitted to relevant agencies or investigators who may be in a position to respond to it (UNODC, 2012).

Traditionally, the gathering and analysis of intelligence is assigned to law enforcement officials. However, in cases of wildlife trafficking, NGOs are often (and increasingly) engaged in the collection of evidence (see, for example, Nurse, 2013). This can create challenges in relation to chain of custody for evidence, for example.

Example: 'Operation Thunderstorm'

In June 2018, INTERPOL, WCO and ICCWC conducted an international operation against the illegal trade in wildlife and timber. 'Operation Thunderstorm' resulted in the seizure of 43 metric tonnes (mt) of wild meat, 1.3 mt of raw and processed elephant ivory, and of 27,000 reptiles, among other things. The operation involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife, and forestry agencies from 92 countries. Criminal intelligence gathered ahead of the operation enabled the targeting of specific hotspots for action, such as where vehicles suspected of moving illicit products could be searched. Results of the operation are utilized to generate useful intelligence for future national, regional and international law enforcement efforts. The operation was the second of three global wildlife operations organized by INTERPOL (Thunderbird (2017); Thunderstorm (2018); and Thunderball (2019).

(INTERPOL, 20 June 2018)

Example: EU-TWIX

EU-TWIX (European Union Trade in Wildlife Information Exchange) is a tool to facilitate information exchange on illegal wildlife trade in Europe. It was developed by the Belgian Federal Police and TRAFFIC Europe (an NGO), with the advice of the Belgian CITES Management Authority and Customs.

The main purpose of EU-TWIX is to assist with strategic analysis and with carrying out field investigations. The database has been developed to assist national law enforcement agencies, including CITES Management Authorities and prosecutors, to detect, analyse and monitor illegal activities related to trade in fauna and flora covered by the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. It is designed to become a centralized database on seizures and offences reported by all EU Member States plus Albania, Iceland, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and the Ukraine. Additionally, it contains information on technical, scientific, economic and other fields to help with the identification, valuation, and disposal, of seized or confiscated specimens.

Example: Operation Dragon

From 2016-2018, the Wildlife Justice Commission undertook 'Operation Dragon' to gather evidence on eight organized criminal groups trafficking freshwater turtles and tortoises to supply the pet trade. By gathering evidence through undercover operations and conducting intelligence analysis, the investigation unearthed the vast scale of corruption at airports and transport hubs and helped law enforcement agencies target and convict high-level traffickers. Following the investigation, 30 traffickers were arrested, and another suspect was subjected to an INTERPOL Red Notice for wildlife crime. More than 6,000 turtles and tortoises were seized from the traffickers.

Wildlife Justice Commission, a non-governmental organization, collaborated with several law enforcement agencies, including conducting joint operations with India, Malaysia and the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme.

(Wildlife Justice Commission, 2018)

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: LAGA & EAGLE Network – Wildlife Enforcement

The Last Great Ape Organization Cameroon (LAGA) considers itself the first Wildlife Law Enforcement NGO in Africa. LAGA collaborates with governments to fight the commercial poaching and illicit trade of protected species. It employs investigators, informers and undercover agents to gather intelligence on dealers and traffickers. LAGA started its operations in Cameroon, however, the EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement) Network extends the LAGA model to other countries of West and Central Africa, among others, Uganda.

In 2018, the EAGLE Network reported the arrests of 181 significant wildlife traffickers, of which 88% remained behind bars while on trial.

(Laga, 2019; EAGLE Network, 2019)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Fiji, crime script analysis to understand the illegal harvesting of live corals

In a study by Monique C Sosnowksi, Judith S Weis, and Gohar S Petrossian published in 2020, the authors used a crime script framework to analyse the process by which corals are harvested and to develop intervention strategies to address illegal coral harvesting at different stages:

Crime script analysis is an analytical strategy used by crime scientists to understand the specific sequential steps involved in committing a crime. Specifically, crime script analysis proposes the analysis of the following sequential steps:

  1. Preparation. The acquisition of the necessary tools, selecting of co-offenders, as well as agreeing on the selected locations to engage in offending.
  2. Entry. The entry into the selected location(s) where the crime is to be committed.
  3. Precondition. Crime is not committed at once. Some pre-conditional steps may be taken to enable the commission of crime, such as, for example, waiting at the location for place managers to leave or for the area to clear.
  4. Instrumental precondition. Identifying the suitable targets.
  5. Instrumental initiation. Closing-in and approaching the target.
  6. Instrumental actualization. Engaging with the target, such as either breaking into a home or a car, or isolating the target for assault.
  7. Doing. Carrying out the intended crime, such as, for example, stealing from the burglarized home, stealing the car, or assaulting the victim.
  8. Post condition. This entails leaving the crime setting or escaping from the crime scene.
  9. Exit. The decisions that need to be made post crime commission, such as disposing of the stolen goods.

The scripting of the crime event becomes especially relevant if one wants to better understand the underlying mechanisms that make crime possible. Crime scripting not only provides analysts with a framework to systematically investigate the crime-commission process but also facilitates a better understanding of the decisions made and actions taken to carry out specific crimes, which in turn aids in the designing of tailored situational prevention strategies. Upon the close scrutiny of each step of the crime-commission process, potential interventions can be identified. These intervention strategies are rooted in situational crime prevention (and aimed at removing the criminal opportunities).

In their study, Sosnowski, Weis, and Petrossian examine the eight stages of illegal coral harvesting in Fiji and propose ‘potential interventions’ for each stage. [The study also covers coral harvesting in Indonesia, which has been removed from the following extracts].

Stage 1: Preparation. In Fiji, live coral harvest is a community-based activity. Each community, or village, has rights to certain marine zones stretching from high water levels to fringing reefs. These marine zones are known as qoliqolis (a Fjiian term broadly used to refer to submerged land, including territorial seas, archipelagic waters, internal waters etc.) Under the Fiji Fisheries Act, local members of a qoliqoli have exclusive rights to its use. Village chiefs are often in charge of qoliqolis and determine who can harvest and how much can be taken. In Fijian villages, participation in the harvest (both legal and illegal) is based on communal financial demands, lack of employment, and lack of alternative income opportunities. Locals participate on the basis of supply contracts with exporters who provide a licensed collector or purchase order, or directly employ harvesters. When licensees are provided, they organize villagers to harvest quantities often greater than requested due to expected quality rejections. Companies often have a villager, generally the village elder or qoliqoli owner, with whom they liaise and approach directly for negotiations. Equipment used by harvesters includes nets, hammers, and screwdrivers with plastic tops removed for use as a chisel to chip away corals. Outboard engine boats are used to access reefs. The only modern technology utilized is a cell phone in case of problems, as well as for rendezvous arrangements.

Potential interventions: Village chiefs could be made aware of the illegal nature of trading certain corals. Villages could hold regular marine management meetings to educate locals about their resources, management, law enforcement, and risks. Governments could require stores that sell equipment such as fins, masks, snorkels, and boats to require that the buyers provide basic personal information, such as addresses and phone numbers.

Stage 2: Entry. Collectors go out early in the morning to their desired reef in a shallow fishing boat with an outboard motor. As near-shore areas are more intensely monitored by local enforcement, illegal collectors are often deterred from harvesting in these areas. Fishers also prefer to work in the mid to outer shelf zones due to a higher abundance of colourful polyps and better working conditions. Independent family groups usually harvest coral by hookah diving.

Potential interventions: Governments could set up random checkpoints to monitor boats leaving the coast toward reefs. Efforts could be made to identify and monitor the hot spots where corals are most vulnerable to illegal harvesting. Risk of apprehension could also be increased by randomly checking boats that have made trips to these hot spots.

Stage 3: Precondition. In Fiji, a lack of marine patrolling and reef visibility influence the ability of harvesters to participate in collection. Specifically, it is preferable that water conditions are calm to facilitate visibility for coral harvesting. Furthermore, due to the physical requirements needed to successfully harvest live coral, collectors are generally physically fit young men, often in their late teens or early twenties.

Stage 4: Instrumental precondition. In Fiji, local coral harvesters commonly work as a four-man team: two harvesters, one man to move between the harvesters with a net collecting corals, and a fourth who remains on the boat packing the corals as they are brought up. On Viti Levu, there are commonly three teams of men at a harvest site at one time.

Potential interventions: Increase the risk of apprehension by randomly checking/questioning groups of individuals at these hot spots of coral harvesting about their reason for being in the area.

Stage 5: Instrumental initiation. Men undertake approximately 200 to 300 4-6 m dives per day, up to 6 days a week. The nature of this harvesting methodology essentially eliminates the participation of older collectors. Most collectors, however, do not work fulltime. Working 2 to 3 days per week, men gathered 152,830 pieces, or 3,396 pieces of live coral per collector in 2003.

Stage 6: Instrumental actualization. Harvesters identify and break off coral with a hammer and screwdriver, occasionally using large iron bars. Broken pieces are collected using a net and placed onto a bamboo raft or within their boat. Coral pieces are sorted to separate out undesirable pieces.

Potential interventions: Drone technology could be utilized in hot spots, as well as in no-take zones in order to automate detection and alerts. This could further assist with identifying illegal fishing activity. No-take marine protected areas could be established to protect zones at risk of illegal harvest or overexploitation. Stores that sell equipment such as fins, masks, snorkels, and boats could post signage about coral harvest laws.

Stage 7: Doing. Desirable corals are then placed in plastic bags of seawater tied with rubber bands to be stacked in large buckets or Styrofoam boxes. On average, 50 pieces are collected per person per trip and the average person makes 67 trips per year. Where exporters are involved in the collection, the process is very similar. There are usually three to five divers operating out of a single boat, harvesting about 100 to 200 pieces per trip.

Stage 8: Post condition. The bagged corals in boxes or buckets are brought to shore in the outboard engine boat. In Fiji, corals are taken to a collection station, which is often close to an airport for ease of shipping. This transport is often done via truck hired by the villagers.

Potential interventions: Collecting stations could be identified and closely monitored. To increase risks of apprehension, place managers could be utilized to monitor and report on any suspicious activity. CCTVs could further be installed in these stations to more closely monitor the ongoing activities. To increase risks, coral detection canines could be stationed in major export/import hubs to facilitate detection.

Stage 9: Exit. When corals arrive at Fijian collection stations, they are emptied out of boxes and placed into individual holding areas based on species. Caution must be taken so that adjacent pieces do not impact one another and cause damage. Corals remain in collecting stations for an average of 1 to 3 days. Corals are then suspended in plastic bags with just enough water to cover them and aerated with oxygen, filling the bag. Ten to 20 bags with fist-sized or smaller corals are placed in Styrofoam boxes labelled with the number and genera of coral. A CITES export permit is issued for shipments to overseas destinations.

Potential interventions: The CITES certificate applications could be required to be made several weeks prior to the harvesting of corals. This could allow authorities to conduct background checks on individuals applying for permits and to review violation histories. Issued CITES permits could include barcodes readable by export and import authorities. These could link to information about the applicant as well as coral information. Signs could be promoted in pet/aquarium shops warning against purchase of illegal coral or promoting the certification schemes. Rewards could be reduced by disrupting markets in import countries, thereby decreasing demand. Risks could be increased by increasing penalties for those caught at any stage in the illegal coral trade.

(Sosnowski, Weis, and Petrossian, 2020)

Financial investigations

Financial investigation plays a crucial role in the successful investigation of wildlife trafficking. The financial aspects of the crime present themselves in at least two distinct ways:

(1) Wildlife trafficking is frequently about money. In addition to the initial investment to create the infrastructure, the ongoing management of the proceeds of the crime and the laundering and movement of the profits are essential parts of wildlife trafficking.

(2) Wildlife trafficking, especially if conducted continuously, can become a lifestyle crime. Lifestyle pursuits such as travel, expenditure on luxury items like cars and jewellery, and leisure activities, frequenting restaurants and casinos, all require means and methods of purchase.

For this reason, the investigation of financial transactions and the analysis of the results often provide important information and can provide evidence that may be used in prosecutions. For example, an investigation of the purchase of travel tickets may reveal details of travel arrangements, and analysis of credit card expenditure can reveal airlines, hotels, restaurants or other venues regularly used by perpetrators. It is possible to coordinate the arrest phase with financial sequestration procedures in order to arrive at the optimal situation of synchronized arrest of offenders and confiscation of their assets (UNODC, 2012; World Bank, 2018). (For more on this topic, and the different methods used for financial analysis, please see Module 8 of the Module Series on Organized Crime.)

As it is the case with financial investigation, goods related to wildlife trafficking can lead to further investigations. For instance, if weapons used for poaching are confiscated, it is possible to use information gleaned from the seizure to start the investigation for wildlife trafficking. Illegal logging can be detected by following chainsaws and trucks, which are used for illegal deforestation.

Forfeiture, seizure, confiscation

Seizure is a provisional measure which results either in confiscation, in forfeiture, or in the return of the goods to their owner depending on the decision on the merits of a case. To seize an animal, animal part, or plant suspected of having been trafficked, it generally suffices to demonstrate a reasonable belief that the seized item is contraband (de Klemm, 1993).

A particular challenge in the context of wildlife trafficking is the seizure of live specimens, which need to be properly kept and cared for. Many border control points, Customs agencies, and other authorities have neither the facilities nor the expertise to look after such specimens. For this reason, they often have to rely on private entities, such as zoos, to take of the seized animals. Similar challenges arise if seized animals need to be returned to their place of origin. (For more information on the topic of confiscation, please see Module 10 of the Module Series on Organized Crime.)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Solomon Islands, powers to search, seize and arrest

Under section 29 of the Wildlife Protection and Management Act (Solomon Islands) an inspector (including police officers) may at any time, if they have reasonable cause to believe that there is in or on any vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or premises any specimen, the possession of which would constitute an offence, board or enter any such vehicle, vessel, aircraft or premises for the purpose of exercising the functions conferred upon an inspector under the Act. Under section 30, an inspector may, where they have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed or is being committed against any provisions of the Act and that the person committing the offence is likely to leave Solomon Islands, without warrant, arrest such person and if the inspector making the arrest is not a police officer, they shall without unnecessary delay hand over such person to a police officer. An inspector making such an arrest may seize any vehicle, vessel, aircraft, and equipment which he believes has been used in commission of such offence or in respect of which they believe such offence has been committed.

(Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, 2015)

Patrols and checkpoints

Physical patrols and checkpoints not only play an important role for the prevention of illegal activities in the wildlife and forestry sectors (see, for example, Jenks et al, 2012), they are also essential for the detection of wildlife trafficking. Such measures mean that officials and local actors may be at or closer to the scene when a crime is attempted or committed, it increases the likelihood that crimes are detected and potentially stopped, that crime scenes are secured, and perpetrators apprehended (Haas & Ferreira, 2018; Sundari Akella & Allan, 2012).

Forests and wildlife habitats are often remote, large, and inaccessible areas that are difficult, if not impossible, to patrol regularly and comprehensively (Schneider, 2012; UNODC, 2012). Forestry officials, game wards, park rangers, police, and other law enforcement officials can usually only patrol small areas and, as a result, rarely see wildlife trafficking in progress or are the first to observe evidence of criminal activity in these areas. Risk management and systematic patrols with routes set out to optimize coverage of relevant areas are basic methods to improve intelligence gathering and detection (UNODC, 2012; Haas & Ferreira, 2018). In addition, checkpoints along main roads, rivers, trade routes and interchanges, at ports, airports, and key entry points to national parks and other protected areas can also assist in detecting and preventing wildlife trafficking. Officials on patrol or stationed at relevant checkpoints need to be equipped with powers to stop suspects and should be able to demand that persons suspected of illegal activity produce required licences and permits.

Technical support can be used to optimize patrols and controls at checkpoints, especially in high risk poaching areas (Ferreguetti et al, 2018; Haas & Ferreira, 2018; Shaffer & Bishop, 2016). If used appropriately and without disruption to local wildlife, drones can be a further tool to monitor areas of protected wildlife habitat, especially in locations that are otherwise difficult to access (World Bank, 2018).

Example: R v Strickland (Canada)

In an example of the role of patrols, this Canadian case from 2016 involved a fisheries officer and two fisheries guards who were conducting a patrol in a boat when they observed the accused in his vessel. Although they were some distance away, they thought they observed him fishing. The fisheries officer motioned for the accused to come over to the fishing vessel, but instead the accused drove his vessel to a nearby beach in front of his cabin.

The accused gave evidence that he was not fishing at the time, but was filling his engine with fuel. He said he observed the request to go over to the fisheries vessel, but felt that because of the sea conditions, strong current and shoals close by, it was not safe. Instead he motioned for the fisheries office to conduct the inspection on the beach where he had previously seen a similar boat land on a previous occasion.

At a later time, the accused refused to provide the fisheries officer with his name. As a result of these actions, the accused was charged with obstruction under s 62 of the Fisheries Act.

( R v Strickland [2016] NLPC 1314A000821)

Example: Patrols by the 'Black Mambas'

The 'Black Mambas' anti-poaching unit is based in the Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa's Greater Kruger National Park and has run by Transfrontier Africa NPC, a volunteer conservation project, since 2013. The Black Mambas is the first majority female anti-poaching unit. By conducting daily boundary patrols, their main strategy to prevent poaching consists of early detection through weapon-free monitoring and surveillance. Black Mambas personnel gather intelligence, remove snares meant to trap wild animals and search for bush meat kitchens and poacher camps. Invasive measures include disruptive patrols within areas of high rhino density, as well as road blocks.

In 2015, the Black Mambas launched the Bush Babies Environmental Education Program. Working with children between the ages of 12 and 15 years, the aim of this program is to raise awareness about their surrounding environment, provide a better understanding of conservation, pass on a sustainable use of resources and ultimately install an ethical ethos in future generations.

( Black Mambas)

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Palau, use of tracking devices

A 2016 report published in the New York Times Magazine shows how people in Palau and their allies are discovering that technology can be deployed for marine conservation, because just as tracking devices and satellite data can be used to monitor the activities of people on land, authorities are increasingly able to do so at sea.

Since the 1990s, ships have deployed the Automatic Identification System, or AIS, a once-voluntary collision-avoidance system whereby onboard VHF (Very High Frequency) transmitters convey their position, identity, and speed continuously to other ships and to satellites. In 2002, the International Maritime Organization mandated AIS to be installed on nearly all passenger ships regardless of size, and on commercial ships, including fishing vessels, with a gross tonnage of 300 or more (typically, that’s a 40 m long vessel) in international waters. The report explains several shortcomings of AIS: (1) Captains are allowed to turn the transponders off when they perceive a credible danger of being tracked by pirates. This creates a gaping loophole for poachers. (2) The system can be hacked to give false locations. (3) Many of the ships involved in the fishery-related crimes are smaller than 300 tonnes and thus exempt from the system entirely. Partly as a response to the known deficiencies of AIS, many countries now also require fishing vessels to carry an additional device called a vessel-monitoring system, or VMS. Typically, this takes the form of a cone-shaped antenna on the roof of the wheelhouse, wired to a locked transceiver and the ship’s control panel that transmits their location and other data to local fishery authorities at all times.

More sea-traffic data may become available as more countries consider deploying devices in the water — sonar and camera buoys, as well as low-cost floating hydrophones — to catch ships approaching restricted areas. Even storm clouds, which long concealed many crimes at sea, no longer pose as much of an obstacle. Satellites armed with synthetic-aperture radar can detect a vessel’s position regardless of weather conditions. All this data becomes especially useful when coupled with sophisticated software whose algorithms can trigger alerts — if, for instance, a vessel goes ‘‘dark’’ by turning off its transponder, if it zigzags in certain formations that indicate that it is fishing, or if it enters a forbidden area. Now, instead of blindly patrolling broad swaths of ocean, the police can target their efforts.

The report notes that the most reliable form of ocean law enforcement continues to be real-time direct surveillance, which is neither easy nor cheap. Generating close-in imagery from the sky depends predominantly on military-grade drones. Ordering up high-resolution photographs from space is still extremely costly, sometimes more than USD 3 500 per picture, and the company or government that operates the satellite often requires the request for the image to be made days in advance, so operators can aim the lens at the right location on its next trip hurtling around the Earth. Palau experimented with smaller, commercially available drones in 2013 but the drones proved to be too expensive and hard to fly, and the cameras mounted on the drones gave too tightly circumscribed a view of the waters below.

(Urbina, 2016)

Border control/customs

Border control and other measures employed by customs authorities are vital in the detection and enforcement of wildlife trafficking. Border crossings and ports often constitute important points for interventions by customs and other law enforcement officers (UNODC, 2012). The role of Customs is highly dependent on whether officers have investigative powers or not. Either Customs officers themselves can investigate instances of wildlife trafficking detected at the border independently or they have to refer suspicious cases to other authorities (Polner, 2015).

International cooperation is of particular importance at the border, including land borders, airports, and seaports. One important initiative to foster collaboration between border control and Customs agencies across borders is the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme, which 'counters wildlife trafficking by strengthening national law enforcement and international cooperation' (UNODC, 2018a). The Programme brings together relevant officials from multiple jurisdictions and provides them with joint training on profiling, targeting, and other operational techniques. Specialized training packages focusing on wildlife, forest and fisheries crimes are a vital part of this programme (Polner, 2015; UNODC, 2018a).

Example: R v Humphrey, R v Peora Jungthirapanich

On 25 July 2000, two men landed from Thailand at Heathrow Airport, carrying with them two large suitcases. UK Customs officers observed these men loading the suitcases into the car of a third man, and arrested the three men. UK Customs found 23 wild birds of prey, concealed in plastic tubes in the suitcases. While a veterinary examination revealed that all birds had been alive at the start of the journey, six had died in transit and the rest had sustained pressure injuries from being in the plastic tubes. These birds were listed as protected species under CITES. The three men faced several charges related to, among others, importation, selling and keeping for sale, of protected wildlife. One man, the instigator, was convicted of 22 offences of unlawfully importing or dealing with animals and birds of endangered species and was sentenced to six years and a half imprisonment. His subordinate was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment, and the third man was acquitted.

( R. v Raymond Leslie Humphrey [2004] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 39 and R. v Peora Jungthirapanich [2003] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 107)

Use of force

In some cases, enforcement agencies rely on coercive powers to demand compliance with relevant wildlife and forestry laws. For meaningful enforcement of the law, criminal justice actors investigating wildlife and forest offences, and other agencies, need to be equipped with the powers that enable them to conduct searches, interview witnesses and suspects, enter premises, seize assets and make arrests (UNODC, 2012). As a last resort, force may be used to carry out procedural measures, if this is reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.

Some governments, often with public support, have made express statements that they are engaged in fighting a 'war on poaching', which has sometimes led to the militarization of anti-poaching units and equipping them with heavy weapons. Some jurisdictions have adopted a 'shoot to kill' policy if enforcement officials encounter active poachers (Mogomotsi & Madigele, 2017; see also, Hübschle & Faull, 2017). Such policies are controversial. Their impact on the level and patterns of illegal activity is undetermined, and such polices have sometimes had the effect that poachers acquire small arms and other weapons and engage in violent confrontations with officials, leading to injuries and loss of life.

Example: The use of firearms under Kenya's Wildlife Conservation and Management Act

Article 112(3) of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (Kenya) permits officers to use firearms

  • in the course of law enforcement against -
    • any person charged with an offence punishable under this Act, when that person is escaping or attempting to escape lawful custody;
    • any person who, by force, removes or attempts to remove any other person from lawful custody;
    • any person who, by force, attempts to prevent the lawful arrest of himself or any other person; or
    • any person unlawfully hunting any wildlife using a firearm;
  • in self-defence or in defence of another officer or other person;
  • for the protection of people and property against any animal causing destruction to human life or crops or livestock or property;
  • for the protection and safety of visitors against banditry or animals;
  • in the course of problem animal control; and
  • wildlife veterinary activities.

Under paragraph (4), the use of firearms is only allowed when 'the officer concerned has reasonable grounds to believe that he cannot otherwise prevent the escape, and unless he has given ample warning to such person that he is about to use a firearm against him, and the warning is unheeded', or 'unless the officer concerned believes on reasonable grounds that he or any other person is in danger of grievous bodily harm, or that he cannot otherwise prevent the removal, effect the arrest or, as the case may be, defend himself or the other officer or person'. 

Regional perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa

Example: Green violence and militarization at Kruger National Park

Green militarization, the deployment of military (or military-like) actors and methods in the pursuit of wildlife conservation, has been a regularly observed response of many African states to the poaching of wildlife. Militarization has long been deeply rooted in conservation, but such efforts intensified in the 1980s as a response of many African states to increasingly heavily armed poaching groups. The term green violence goes beyond green militarization and includes material and non-material aspects, such as social and linguistic violence. Both terms embody the meshing of conservation and militarization in many African national parks. This manifestation has resulted in controversial shoot-to-kill policies in some countries, in which authorized rangers shoot rather than arrest suspected poachers.

Kruger National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP), a “peace park” between South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Kruger is home to the single-largest rhino population worldwide and has long been a hotspot of commercial rhino poaching. As a response to the poaching crisis, the park has heavily invested in the militarization of its conservation personnel. The spatial qualities of the park- it is expansive, densely wooded and framed by international borders - in combination with political-ecological values that consider the park as part of South Africa’s natural heritage, seem to facilitate the militarization efforts.

The park has been witnessing a dual militarization, in which commercial poachers and rangers are locked in an intensifying cycle of upgrading their weapons and tactics to keep up with the other side. While there is uncertainty about the exact number, it is widely assumed that, in the course of recent years, hundreds of rangers and poachers have been killed in this conflict.

As a result of the militarization of conservation, conservation rhetoric shifted to a more extreme discourse, a trend which may be facilitated by social media. In these new discourses, protecting the “suffering subject” (the animal) was replaced by punishing the “poaching subject” (the poacher). The endorsement of using violence against poachers (including the celebration of the death of poachers) has placed them in a “space of exception” as the enemies of “peace parks”. In this rhetoric, the poaching crisis is framed as insurgency in which South Africa is under attack from the outside.

Scholars argue that green violence has to be seen in its historical and contemporary context, including racial dynamics. In case of Kruger, the poaching of rhinos and the conflict between (mostly) white public in South Africa and (mostly) black poachers from Mozambique has brought back unaddressed anxieties from the apartheid era.

(Büscher & Ramutsindela, 2016; Lunstrum, 2014)

Covert investigation techniques

Covert investigation methods involve, for instance, the controlled delivery of wildlife contraband, the use of undercover operations, or the use of surveillance. The use of such techniques can be crucial if they are possible and permissible under domestic law and if their use is appropriate in a given case. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) lists a series of special investigative techniques such as controlled delivery, undercover operations and electronic and other surveillance (Article 20) and encourages State parties to make appropriate use of them. In this context, States must balance the competing interests of ensuring public safety through arrest and detention of criminals with the need to ensure the rights of individuals. Covert investigation methods can be particularly intrusive and thus require a solid legal basis and proper authorization. For this reason, most jurisdictions impose strict requirements and conditions on such operations (UNODC, 2012; Module 8 of the Module Series on Organized Crime).

Internet surveillance is a further and increasingly important tool to detect instances of wildlife trafficking. Examinations of online advertisements for fauna and flora have shown that websites are frequently used to sell or seek wildlife contraband (IFAW, 2005; Izzo, 2010; UNODC, 2012; see also, EIA, 2016; Alacs & Georges, 2008). In 2012, an automated digital surveillance system was developed to monitor reports on illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products online (Sonricker Hansen et al, 2012). The 'dark web' is another online space where contraband is traded, though surveillance of communication relating to wildlife trafficking in the dark web is only in its infancy (Harrison et al, 2016). For more information on the dark net and cybercrime in general, see the Module Series on Cybercrime.

A further technique used to uncover wildlife trafficking organized criminal groups is controlled deliveries. Controlled deliveries are 'used by law enforcement agencies to identify persons connected with criminal activities and to gather evidence against them' (INTERPOL & CITES, 2007, p. 7). They are 'used when enforcers decide to allow a shipment, known or suspected to contain illegal-origin wildlife, to continue to be transported from one country to another but strictly under "controlled" conditions' (INTERPOL & CITES, 2007, p. 7). This investigation measure can be set in motion when law enforcement officials physically detect, or otherwise become aware of, animal parts or plants of apparently illegal origin. Controlled deliveries are used to identify the participants throughout the distribution network. As with other covert investigations measures, it is essential that domestic law provides a sufficient legal basis to conduct controlled deliveries. If such a measure is not expressly permitted (or prohibited), prosecution authorities have to decide if controlled deliveries are an investigation tool that produces evidence that will be admissible in criminal proceedings and have to check which conditions must be met. In cases involving controlled deliveries across borders, international cooperation must be sought in advance, also to ensure that the specimens do not enter the illicit trade ((INTERPOL & CITES, 2007; UNODC, 2012).

Even if used successfully, controlled deliveries frequently only expose perpetrators who come into contact with the contraband, which often makes follow-up investigations essential. Additionally, controlled delivery operations are time consuming and resource intensive. For these reasons, careful consideration needs to be given whether such measures are necessary and justifiable (INTERPOL & CITES, 2007). Consequently, controlled deliveries are not very common in investigating wildlife trafficking, although they do occur from time to time (EIA, 2016).

Example: United States v Zhifei Li 'Operation Crash' (2013)

The defendant in this case was charged with offences relating to wildlife trafficking following his arrest by Special Agents with the US Fish & Wildlife Service - Office of Law Enforcement (USFWS-OLE) several days after arriving in the United States. The defendant had purchased two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros in an undercover operation in Miami Beach, Florida, of which he was the target.

( United States v Zhifei Li (2013))

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Vanuatu, special investigative powers

In 2017, Vanuatu passed a new Police Powers Act which authorises police to use ‘special investigative powers’ in the investigation of offence punishable by imprisonment for 12 months or more. This includes many wildlife and forest crime offences under Vanuatu’s International Trade (Fauna and Flora) Act 2006, Wild Bird (Protection) Act 2006, and Forestry Act 2006. The special investigative techniques permissible under the Police Powers Act 2017 (Vanuatu) include undercover operations, surveillance, communication interceptions and recordings, access to computers and and computer networks, and controlled delivery.

Crime scene investigation

Crime scene work plays a central role in the investigation of wildlife trafficking. Since such work can involve traces of perpetrators and objects of the crime as well as evidence that may be presented in court, crime scene investigations must be particularly meticulous and detailed records must be kept. It is also important that a proper chain of custody (the continuity of evidence) is maintained for each item of evidence (UNODC, 2012).

In the context of wildlife trafficking, crime scene investigations can be difficult because offences often take place in remote areas where no enforcement agencies are based and where laboratories and scientific expertise are not readily available (UNODC, 2012).

Crime scene work involves proper preparation and rapid preservation of relevant locations. It requires proper equipment and trained personnel familiar with crime scene management and record keeping (Cooper et al, 2009; UNODC, 2012). Wherever possible, such work should be led by a qualified crime scene investigator (FWG, 2014). To maximize the evidential potential of the location, a crime scene has to be properly established and precautions have to be taken to ensure that it is disturbed as little as possible (Cooper et al 2009; see also, FWG, 2014).

Regional perspective: Pacific Islands

Example: Solomon Islands, crime scene investigations

Under section 108 of the Police Act (Solomon Islands), a police officer may enter any place that the police officer suspects, on reasonable grounds, is a crime scene and may establish a crime scene. As soon as practicable after the establishment of a crime scene, the police officer must apply for a warrant to search for, and seize, any evidence found at the crime scene. A police officer responsible for establishing a crime scene, or other nominated officer responsible for the crime scene, must take all steps he or she considers reasonably necessary to protect anything at the crime scene from being damaged, interfered with or destroyed (section 109(1) Police Act). This includes ensuring that any person whose presence is not essential does not enter the crime scene, preventing unnecessary movement inside the crime scene, establishing a safe walking area to minimise the risk of damaging any evidence, ensuring that nothing is unnecessarily touched or moved, and directing the removal of, or removing any person, animal, vehicle, vessel or object from the crime scene until all necessary forensic and technical examinations are finished (section 109(2) Police Act). It is an offence under section 189 of the Act to tamper with a crime scene, tamper with any evidence or potential evidence at a crime scene, hinder or obstruct a police officer, and to refuse to obey any lawful direction issued by a police officer at a crime scene.

(Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, 2015)

Forensic Science

The use of science and technology as part of investigating wildlife trafficking is a promising part of work in this area. In the context of wildlife trafficking, the use of forensics can be broadly divided into two areas: forensic techniques to assist in the identification or origin of species; and forensic techniques to link suspects or physical items to a crime (UNODC & CITES, 2016; UNODC, 2012).

Depending on the nature of the alleged offence, various types of forensic methods are used. Identification and morphological studies are used to determine the species of a particular animal by analysing bones, hair, feathers, scales, and other organs and tissues. This can also help establish the possible illegal origin of an animal part or plant (FWG, 2014; Cooper et al, 2009; UNODC, 2012). Microscopy or elemental analysis are used, for example, to identify ivory (UNODC, 2012). Pathological studies involving the examination of carcasses, organs, tissues, and other samples from dead animals can be used to determine the cause of an animal's death (Cooper et al, 2009; UNODC, 2012). DNA testing, discussed further in the next section, is widely used to track wildlife poaching and illegal logging especially through the use of DNA testing at points of origin, transit and final sale (Cressa & Zommers, 2014; UNODC, 2012; UNODC & CITES, 2016).

There are many other sciences that can be of great value in investigating wildlife trafficking, such as toxicology, which can be helpful in determining poisonings, for instance. Bullet matching fingerprints, trace evidence and forensic document examination are all important in catching the perpetrators. Document examination is very important in intelligence gathering and to identify falsified documents. As well, methods of estimating elapsed time since death (pathological, entomological or botanical) are very important in determining whether a poached animal was killed within or out of season, and with the latter two, these techniques are useful even years later.

To be able to produce the tests needed in an investigation of a wildlife or forest offence, it is necessary that relevant laboratories are equipped with the requisite infrastructure, that staff is qualified and well trained, and that laboratory work is performed in accordance with forensic standards (FWG, 2014; UNODC & CITES, 2016; see also, Wallace & Ross, 2012).

Example: TRACE Network

TRACE, an NGO established in 2006, promotes the use of forensic science in wildlife conservation and law enforcement. The organization has a global remit for the development, dissemination and implementation of forensic tools to help tackle wildlife crime. TRACE coordinates and partners on multiple wildlife forensic projects in Europe, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. The projects include training on wildlife forensics and seizure, a project aiming at the construction of a pan-European framework for product traceability, and policy-related monitoring, control and surveillance in the fisheries sector, and a project focused on methods for the genetic assignment of farmed cod and sole.

( TRACE Network)

Other technologies

Other technologies used to investigate wildlife trafficking include, inter alia, satellite technology which helps to monitor illegal logging and other forms of illegal land clearance, including felling protected trees (Cressa & Zommers, 2014; UNODC, 2012).

Due to the frequent use of technology by wildlife and forest offenders, the analysis of mobile telephones, computers, and data storage devices is also important, and the field of digital forensics is growing (UNODC, 2012).

Next: DNA
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