© Ola Jennersten / WWF
Wildlife Trade & Crime

What is wildlife trade and crime?

Wildlife trade consists in the sale and/or exchange of wild animals and plants - either live or dead specimens, parts or derivatives, or transformed products. Wildlife trade is not as uncommon as one could think; for example, in the EU the legal trade covers, among other things, reptile skins used in leatherwork, timber transformed into furniture, plants used in medicine, and much more. Wildlife trade occurs at all levels, from local to global. At the international level, it is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), while the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations control trade at the European level.

Wildlife crime is a major environmental crime, and it encompasses any breach of national, regional, or international legislation that protects wildlife species. Hence, it includes illegal wildlife trade, but also illegal killing, poisoning, or poaching of wildlife, as well as the unauthorised alteration or destruction of habitats. Examples of wildlife crime in Europe includes exotic pet species illegally taken from their habitats, sturgeons poached for their caviar, birds of prey and large carnivores poisoned. Of course, wildlife crime harms the environment, but it also negatively affects security, governance, the economy, and ultimately human lives.   

What is the role of the EU?

The EU is one of the biggest importers of wildlife species and wildlife-derived commodities in the world, some of which are illegally imported and traded within the Union. Some European species are also legally and illegally traded within and/or out of Europe, or are victims of other forms of wildlife crime.
As the EU is a single trading bloc, wildlife trade - as all other trade - is governed by EU law. In addition, the EU’s voice is influential in international meetings where it can impact on global decisions on wildlife. In particular, it is a major player at CITES meetings where it coordinates as one block, commanding 27 votes out of 183 Parties, sponsoring many proposals, and occupying two of the 16 voting seats on the CITES Standing Committee.
The EU also funds a number of projects within and outside of Europe which support governmental and non-governmental organisations working on wildlife conservation.

What is happening?

  • In December 2021, the proposal for a new Environmental Crime Directive was published by the European Commission. After two years of negotiation, the EU co-legislators finally agreed on a compromise text in November 2023. The Council and Parliament are expected to approve the final law in early 2024. 
  • Since November 2022, the European Union has a revised its Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, which aims at effectively combating wildlife crime in Europe and beyond. It is critical for both the European Union and the Member States to properly implement it.
  • With CITES CoP19 closing on 25 November 2022, there is now much work needed to protect species newly listed under the Convention, and implement the hundreds of Decisions that were adopted by Parties before the next CoP (2025). All of those are at the heart of the discussions of the CITES Animals and Plants Committee meetings and Standing Committee meetings.

What is WWF doing?

There are many opportunities to strengthen the EU and Member States’ response to wildlife crime. WWF advocates at European and national levels, via the support of its network of national offices, to make sure that:
  • An ambitious revised Environmental Crime Directive is endorsed by EU co-legislators, and that once adopted the new law is properly transposed and implemented by the Member States.
  • The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking is supported by a strong monitoring and evaluation framework and leads to concrete actions within the EU and abroad that will support the fight against wildlife crime.. 
  • In addition, WWF engages with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States on a regular basis on wildlife conservation issues to make sure that their positions benefit biodiversity and people, in particular in the context of CITES.
Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) in a meadow, Patras area, The Peloponnese, Greece

© Wild Wonders of Europe / Christian Ziegler / WWF

Hermann’s tortoises, which can be found in the Peloponnese in Greece, are also victims of illegal trade.


Audrey Chambaudet
Policy Officer,
Wildlife Trade & Wildlife Crime

Angelika Pullen
Communications Director,
+32 473 94 79 66