New Open Access Publication: Global scoping of wildlife crime offences, penalties and statistics

A. Hutchinson, M. Camino-Troya & T. Wyatt

This paper: ‘Global scoping of wildlife crime offences, penalties, and statistics’ began with a contradiction – that is, responses to illegal wildlife trade are increasingly met with criminalisation and harsh penalties, despite evidence that these highly punitive approaches are ineffective in reducing re-offending and preventing crime. To carve a path for more restorative and non-custodial responses to wildlife crimes, we present an overview of the penalties currently associated with wildlife crimes. This is further searchable via a global interactive dashboard of offences and penalties. Through this analysis we highlight a reliance on fines and imprisonment in response to wildlife crime, but also note examples in legislation where restorative, educational, and community engaged responses are adopted. To understand whether the penalties provided for in legislation are actively imposed we also undertook a rapid assessment of the availability of wildlife crime statistics. We found serious gaps in the global availability of wildlife crime data, which limits our understanding of the effectiveness of existing penalties. To move towards restorative justice and non-custodial responses to wildlife crime, greater transparency on the implementation and effectiveness of existing penalties is needed. 


At a time of escalating biodiversity and climate crises, there is an urgent need to effectively respond to harms and crimes toward wildlife and the environment. This study gathers information for a global scoping analysis of wildlife offences and penalties, and of the availability of crime statistics. This is a starting point for assessing the effectiveness of mainstream criminal justice responses (fines and prison) to wildlife crime and a baseline for comparing restorative justice as an alternative approach.  We examine 1,256 pieces of legislation from 185 countries to assess the scope of wildlife-related offences and their corresponding penalties. The analysis shows that penalties are highly varied around the globe, although fines and imprisonment are the predominant response. What counts as a wildlife offence is highly variable across wildlife, forestry, fisheries, and environmental legislation. This also makes for differences in the way government departments identify and prosecute wildlife offences. To display the complexity of the data we introduce a publicly available dashboard and database detailing offence types and penalties, including restorative and non-custodial actions. We then make a rapid assessment of the availability of official sources of wildlife crime statistics, highlighting how very few countries make this information publicly available. This limits our ability to assess whether wildlife offences are being sanctioned as the law requires and whether enforcement reduces re-offending. To make wildlife crime prevention and disruption strategies more effective, better data on wildlife law enforcement and its long-term impacts are urgently needed.