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Tackle corruption to protect wildlife

Illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable forms of illicit trade worldwide, a multibillion-dollar international industry that has grown in sophistication, and volume. Estimates value the trade at somewhere between US$7–23 billion annually, making it a lucrative part of a wider environmental crime industry worth over US$175 billion.

Illegal wildlife trade of this scale could not take place without chains of corruption, beginning with the exploitation of poor rural communities in source and transit countries, and involving accomplices domestically and internationally along a supply chain, making it hard to measure and act against.

This report details the findings of research conducted over 2017 into the corruption that facilitates illegal wildlife trade in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. All act as source and transit countries for a range of wildlife products, from ivory and rhino horn to pangolin scales and hippo teeth.

Institutional and governance weak spots, such as gaps in responsibility and weak jurisdiction, have allowed criminal networks to pay public officials and others to turn a blind eye, provide inside information or otherwise abuse their position. A lack of criminal enforcement measures and investigations has heightened the problem. To stand any chance of combating illegal wildlife trade, corruption needs to be tackled head on. This involves donor agencies as well as law enforcement bodies, international organisations and NGOs working alongside wildlife management authorities.

The complex legal status of many wildlife products, and the unclear status of many species, also needs clearing up. An electronic recordkeeping or a universal permit database would also help.

OECD (2018), Strengthening Governance and Reducing Corruption Risks to Tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade: Lessons from East and Southern Africa, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264306509-en

©OECD Observer No 316, Q4 2018