In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in wildlife crime, resulting in an extinction crisis that threatens treasured species around the world like elephants, rhinos, tigers, and more. One of the leading causes of this crisis is illegal trafficking – a multi-billion dollar global industry with a low rate of arrests and convictions. Wildlife trafficking threaten ecosystems, harm wildlife, and push species to the brink of extinction. Trafficking effects also ripple outward, jeopardizing sustainability efforts, economic stability and security, and public health.
Wildlife trafficking includes the illegal trade of fish, wildlife, and plants, encompassing the illegal timber trade, money laundering enterprises, global fraud, and more. Efforts to target and combat the illicit wildlife trade are hindered by the existence of sophisticated organized crime networks that are estimated to net an annual revenue of upwards of $23 billion per year. Because of its underground nature, wildlife crime is almost impossible to detect through law enforcement alone.
Tracking down offenders in the illicit wildlife trafficking trade has proven to be difficult due to its pervasiveness and underground nature. Protecting and incentivizing people to report illegal activity is then crucial in combatting this increasingly lucrative trade and the poaching that sustains it.
To aid in the reporting of wildlife crimes, the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) educates whistleblowers about their rights and protections under U.S. law in order to empower them to come forward with evidence of wildlife crime and combat this dangerous global trade. NWC has also led policy actions, advocacy pushes, investigations, and more to aid whistleblowers in reporting wildlife crime and strengthen existing whistleblower programs.
Whistleblowers & the Illicit Global Wildlife Trade
Many times, insiders in illicit wildlife trafficking organizations or elsewhere have knowledge of the operations and can confidentially report evidence of illegal activity. Whistleblowers can be critical in identifying and reporting wildlife crimes and violations to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.
A variety of U.S. laws can be used to target illegal wildlife trafficking and activities that enable trafficking. These laws also offer monetary rewards for whistleblowers who provide information on violations that result in successful enforcement actions. Whistleblower disclosures and corresponding reward programs have been both successful and lucrative; the federal False Claims Act, for example, has collected more than $46.5 billion from wrongdoers since 1986 for the benefit of taxpayers with nearly $7.8 billion being awarded to whistleblowers.
Wildlife trafficking and crime can take many forms. Illegal activities that whistleblowers may report include:
- Buying or selling illegal wildlife products.
- Bribing foreign government officials.
- Importing or exporting illegal wildlife products.
- Providing false information on customs forms at U.S. ports.
- Shipping or transporting illegal wildlife products.
- Laundering money earned from trafficking.
- Offering or purchasing illegal hunting guide services.
- Participation of U.S. citizens or U.S. corporations.
Collecting and organizing evidence of the wildlife crime observed is critical. Law enforcement agencies are more likely to investigate tips when they are supported by hard evidence, such as:
- Business Cards
- Scientific Reports
- Billing Records
- Budget and Financial Data
- Internal Reports
- Meeting Notes
- Video & Voice Recordings
- Scientific Test Results
- Transit Routes & Transport Methods
- Bank Account Information
- Evidence of Bribery
- Money Laundering
However, before making a disclosure, remember that each law has different applications, so it is best to submit a confidential intake report and work with an attorney to assess which law(s) apply to the information you possess.