Global Financial Integrity

GFI header image

Wildlife Trafficking Generates Up to US$23 billion in Illicit Financial Flows Each Year

Channing Mavrellis

CITES to Tackle Species Conservation and Wildlife Crime at Johannesburg Conference

WASHINGTON, DC – As the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flore (CITES) gathers in Johannesburg for its 17th Conference of the Parties, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) releases new estimates on the link between wildlife trafficking and the global shadow financial system. From a forthcoming report, to be published in November 2016, GFI finds that wildlife trafficking generates an estimated US$5 to $23 billion in revenues each year.

Halting the illicit wildlife trade is an urgent issue, not just for species conservation but for development and security as well. Community-based ecotourism is a powerful tool that can benefit development, yet wildlife trafficking robs local communities of their resources. Furthermore, profits from the wildlife trafficking finance corruption, violence, and instability.

“Per kilo, the retail profits for some wildlife products can be equal to or even greater than the equivalent amount of cocaine or heroin, yet the legal penalties are considerably more lenient.” said GFI Policy Analyst Channing May. “The ugliness of poaching trades on the beauty of nature, and this trade is lucrative. No country is untouched.”

In 2015, at least 1,342 rhinos were poached throughout Africa for their horns, representing a retail value of more than US$490 million. Criminals use a variety of means—from anonymous shell companies to trade misinvoicing—to smuggle goods and launder profits. Complex, anonymous multinational corporate structures hide beneficial ownership, making it extremely difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

“The global shadow financial system and its mechanisms play a major role in all transnational crime and corruption, not just wildlife trafficking,” noted GFI President Raymond Baker. “A united effort is needed to address trade misinvoicing, tax evasion, and anonymous shell companies.”

The November 2016 GFI report will explore illicit financial flows associated with wildlife trafficking, as well as other transnational crimes: trafficking in drugs, cultural property, persons, organs, and arms, the illicit trade in conflict minerals, counterfeiting, crude oil theft, illegal logging, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Sign up for updates here to receive a copy of the report when it is released.

For all press inquiries or to schedule an interview with Ms. May, contact Christine Clough at / +1 202 293 0740, ext. 231.  On-camera spokespersons are available in Washington, DC.


Note to Editors 

  • Click here to view and download GFI’s infographic on wildlife crime and illicit flows.


Christine Clough
+1 202 293 0740 ext.231 (Office)
+1 202 510 1548 (Mobile)