Discover the importance of intelligence-led investigations in combating illegal wildlife trafficking and protecting our oceans.

 

What is the Illegal Wildlife Trade?

The illegal wildlife trade affects over 4,000 species [i] and is estimated to be worth a staggering $23 billion per annum [ii]. It is often overlooked by law enforcement organisations, who tend to focus on more high-profile crime such as drug trafficking and people smuggling.

However, the illegal wildlife trade is not just an environmental issue; it often goes hand in hand with other more serious organised crimes such as money laundering, narcotics, and human trafficking.

Ultimately these types of crimes are about facilitating the transport of proscribed substances and as such the infrastructure and methodology are complimentary. Currently, the illegal wildlife trade is considered by criminals as high-value and low-risk, as repercussions for being caught are low compared to narcotics for instance.

Threats to Ocean Species and Ecosystems

Ocean species are particularly vulnerable to the illegal wildlife trade, as they are a coveted ingredient in a range of dishes and traditional medicine, and for being kept as exotic pets.

Ocean ecosystems are interconnected and removing too much of any one species can have a knock-on effect on many other species. The fishing methods utilised are often destructive, particularly when there is a disproportionate effort to target a particular species [iii].

Using Intelligence to Disrupt Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Chains - Prevail Partners

In order to combat the illegal wildlife trade, it is necessary to: stop poaching, stop trafficking, stop buying, and strengthen policy [iv].

Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are lauded for taking on the identification and prevention of the illegal wildlife trade. Prevail Partners have successfully worked with a range of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and prosecutors to aid with the understanding, identification, and mapping of illegal wildlife trafficking networks.

Insights of this nature can be used to monitor the activities of active networks, influence changes to legislation and policies to prevent the trade, and facilitate the successful arrests and prosecution of criminals involved; ultimately reducing the devastating impact of these crimes.

How Do We Map An Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Network?

When dealing with illegal wildlife trafficking, a holistic, multi-source approach is taken when mapping an organised criminal network. Information is corroborated and analysed to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Analyst experience from past investigations aids with contextualisation, understanding, and the identification of red flags that are linked to an increased likelihood of illegal wildlife trafficking occurring. For example, illegal wildlife trafficking often occurs alongside legitimate business, and certain industries have been identified as more likely to be involved, particularly those with high turnover of product and cash in hand sales e.g. import-export businesses, restaurants, pharmacies, breeding or conservational facilities (especially if they are involved in breeding CITES listed animals).

Using Intelligence to Disrupt Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Chains - Geospatial Methodology Graphic - Prevail Partners

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Case Study: Illegal fishing

Using Intelligence to Disrupt Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Chains - Prevail Partners

Prevail Partners were asked to identify and characterise the illegal wildlife trafficking network of a CITES (the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) listed endangered marine species from the point of extraction to the end consumer, to aid with the prosecution of the actors involved.

Prevail’s investigative analysts, geospatial specialists and data scientists collaborated to undertake the project and produce a detailed report for the client. Wildlife trafficking networks are by their nature multi-jurisdictional problem-sets. Therefore, Prevail analysts also undertook discussions with in-country experts to examine and verify the findings of the digital investigation.

The investigation began by conducting a literature review and media monitoring, this contextualised the problem set and identified actionable start points for the investigation.

Several company names and subjects of interest were located and in-depth digital investigations were conducted into these individuals to establish their corporate and social networks.

The network’s locations of interest were mapped by Prevail’s geospatial analysts. Temporal image monitoring and data layering showed how the sites of interest developed over time.

This allowed the team to draw insights on how each site was likely being used by the network, and how the network activities or methodologies may have evolved.

Using Intelligence to Disrupt Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Chains - Prevail Partners

Examining the details on import and export data identified patterns used by the traffickers when exporting products. A small number of companies in another continent could be seen to be routinely importing products from the companies of interest in the origin country.

In order to understand the supply chain from start to finish, further digital investigations were conducted into theses importing entities. These investigations identified food processing factories, retail units and restaurants associated with the individuals who owned the import companies; we had identified the likely end point in the supply chain.

Once all of this information was sourced, fused and analysed, the high-risk actors who were likely leading the network’s illicit activities were identified, and their modus operandi was understood.

The investigation findings and analysis were compiled in an in-depth report for the client.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as we celebrate World Oceans Day, it is important to highlight how intelligence-led investigations are crucial in protecting our maritime ecosystems.

By providing cutting-edge intelligence and support, Prevail Partners aids in the identification, monitoring, and reporting of illegal species trafficking networks, eventually leading to prosecutions and disruption of this damaging trade.

This enables us to stand as an ally in the global fight against marine species and illegal wildlife trafficking, reaffirming our collective commitment to preserving the world’s oceans.

Using Intelligence to Disrupt Illegal Wildlife Trafficking Chains - Worlds Oceans - Prevail Partners

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References

[i] https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/wildlife/2024/Wildlife2024_Final.pdf
[ii] https://www.zsl.org/what-we-do/conservation/protecting-species/illegal-wildlife-trade-crisis
[iii] https://oceana.org/blog/five-ways-illegal-wildlife-trade-endangers-our-oceans/
[iv] https://wwfint.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_wildlifecrimebrochure_6_1_1_.pdf