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  1. Homeland Security Investigations
  2. What We Investigate
  3. Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest organized crime in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

HSI works to ensure our nation's safety and our people's well-being by protecting our natural resources. We investigate people and entities that illegally supply, sell, and traffic plants and animals.

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth-largest funding source for transnational criminal organizations, generating about $23 billion each year. By making it harder for criminals to profit from these heinous crimes, HSI protects the environment, our economy, and our national security.

Understanding Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife includes all wild animals and plants, including birds and fish, timber and other forest products. HSI investigates wildlife crimes such as taking, trading, importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consuming wild animals and plants in violation of U.S. or international law.

Wildlife trade is regulated by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Lacey Act (16 USC §§ 3371-3378) also protects wildlife, fish and plants that criminals illegally take, possess, transport or sell.

Wildlife Trafficking's Impact

When criminals traffic wildlife to make money, it impacts our country and our world in the following ways:

  • Market growth. Wildlife trafficking grows the market for endangered animals and plants.
  • Ecosystem destruction. Importing invasive species can devastate our ecosystems.
  • Stolen tax revenue. Wildlife trafficking robs countries of tax revenues that could have been generated through legal wildlife importation.
  • Criminal funding. Criminals use profits from wildlife trafficking to fund other criminal enterprises.

Wildlife trade threatens local ecosystems and puts all species under pressure through threats such as over-fishing, pollution, dredging, deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction.

HSI's Response to Wildlife Trafficking

HSI combats wildlife trafficking and illegal natural resources trading by using its customs and criminal authorities to disrupt wildlife trafficking networks, apprehend and prosecute traffickers, seize, and forfeit proceeds, and pursue civil and criminal penalties.

Through collaboration with interagency partners, HSI strengthens enforcement, reduces demand for illegally traded wildlife, and builds international cooperation, commitment, and public-private partnerships.

HSI dismantles wildlife trafficking organizations, while focusing on the connections between wildlife and natural resource trafficking and transnational criminal organizations.

In 2023, HSI established the Wildlife and Environmental Crimes Unit, supports HSI’s efforts to enforce anti-wildlife trafficking and environmental crime laws and reduce the demand for illegally traded wildlife and natural resources.

The Path Forward

Wildlife trafficking is often connected to transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. These environmental crimes threaten national security, public health and safety, and the U.S. and global economies while:

  • Contributing to border destabilization.
  • Hindering sustainable economic development.
  • Accelerating biodiversity loss.
  • Increasing public corruption.
  • Undermining our laws.

HSI protects wildlife by using its unique authorities to investigate transnational and cross-border wildlife crimes. We will continue to strengthen relationships with other government and non-governmental organizations, academia and other stakeholders to build upon wildlife conservation efforts and target the people and transnational criminal organizations that threaten that mission.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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