Wildlife Trafficking

 Fish and Wildlife Service

The United States views the poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife as a threat to good governance, a threat to the rule of law, and a challenge to our stewardship responsibilities for this good earth.

It is the rule of law that forms the foundation for liberty, safety, and prosperity.

Poachers, wildlife smugglers, and black market merchants are operating all over the world. Their criminal acts harm communities, degrade our institutions, destabilize our environment, and funnel billions of dollars to those who perpetrate evil in our world. 

These criminals must and can be stopped. Future generations must not say that the nations of the world sat back or responded with action that was too little or too late, while great species disappeared forever.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Statement of Behalf of the United States at the London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, October 11, 2018

The Fight against Wildlife trafficking

Wildlife trafficking threatens security, hinders economic development, and undermines the rule of law. The illicit trade in wildlife is decimating many species worldwide and threatens iconic species such as rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers with extinction. The Department of Justice is committed to pursuing criminal sanctions against those who violate our federal wildlife trafficking laws. In October 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions served as Head of Delegation to the London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. The Attorney General delivered a Statement on behalf of the United States at the Conference. As the Attorney General observed, “Criminal networks engaged in this illegal trade cross borders, transport their illegal goods worldwide too freely, and sell them to the highest bidder. The only time criminals care about borders is when they hide behind them. It is our job to stop them.”

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), together with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, is responsible for prosecuting international wildlife trafficking crimes, primarily under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act, as well as crimes related to wildlife trafficking, such as smuggling, money laundering, and criminal conspiracy. Working with the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other agencies, ENRD’s Environmental Crimes Section and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have indicted, prosecuted, and secured convictions in numerous cases of trafficking in internationally-protected species, such as ivory, rhinoceros horn, narwhal tusk, shark fins, turtles and reptiles. Federal prosecutors also have pursued charges against traffickers whose crimes threaten domestically-protected wildlife, such as mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes and paddlefish eggs. A summary of recent ENRD wildlife trafficking prosecutions can be found here.

One large-scale, multi-agency criminal enforcement initiative is “Operation Crash,” which targets traffickers in rhinoceros horn, including those who smuggle raw or uncarved rhinoceros horns from the United States to China as well as those who traffic in Asian art and antiques (including fake antiques) made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Through October 2018, more than 50 defendants have been arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced in recent years as part of Operation Crash for smuggling ivory taken from African or Asian elephants, rhino horns, and other protected species. Defendants in these cases have been sentenced to significant terms of imprisonment and the forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash, gold bars, rhino horn, and luxury vehicles and jewelry.

The Department of Justice also works in the international sphere by assisting and working with enforcement partners in other countries that are working to stop the illegal trade in protected wildlife. The Department provides training to our foreign counterparts on the legal, investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial aspects of enforcing wildlife laws. Such training develops more effective partners for us to work with in combating transnational environmental crimes. ENRD has participated extensively in training and conducted workshops through the various Wildlife Enforcement Networks, including networks in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Africa. Finally, the Department of Justice has continued to work with regulatory and enforcement personnel from numerous other countries including the European Union, Australia, Peru, Brazil, Honduras and China on issues related to combating illegal timber trafficking, which destroys protected wildlife habitat.

Recent Events

Attorney General’s Forum on Combating Poaching and Wildlife Trafficking, October 26, 2018, Washington, D.C. (C-SPAN Video)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at Forum on Combating Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking, October 26, 2018

Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks at the Attorney General’s Forum on Combating Wildlife Poaching and Trafficking, October 26, 2018

Attorney General Sessions Delivers a Statement on Behalf of the United States at the London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference 2018, October 11, 2018

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood Delivers Remarks at the 29th Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group Meeting in London, October 10, 2018

Updated April 30, 2021

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