© 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 2019 and 2020, the European Commission conducted an evaluation of the 2008 Environmental Crime Directive, which concluded that several shortcomings had prevented its effective implementation. In December 2021, the proposal for a new Directive was published by the European Commission, and this is now in the court of the European Parliament and Member states, who will reach their position by the summer of 2022. The file will then be negotiated between the different EU institutions before being formally adopted.
  • The first EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking concluded in 2020. In October 2021, the European Commission launched a consultation for its evaluation and revision. The new and revised EU Action Plan should be made public in 2022.
  • In 2022, there will be two CITES meetings: the 74th meeting of the Standing Committee (France, March), and the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (Panama, November). 

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:
  • The future Environmental Crime Directive is strong and ambitious enough to effectively step up the fight against environmental crimes, including wildlife crime.
  • The future EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking includes the means to fulfil its ambitions, in line with the EU's commitments in its 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, and the priorities of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) 2022-2025 cycle. 
In addition, WWF engages with the EU and Member States in CITES processes and meetings to ensure that the positions they adopt benefit wildlife conservation.
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
+32 491 07 32 31

Angelika Pullen
Communications Director,
+32 473 94 79 66