Investigating Wildlife Trafficking

The Earth Journalism Network (EJN) has launched a new project to aid journalists in monitoring and investigating illegal wildlife trafficking in Europe.

Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated at more than US$20 billion annually, trailing only the trafficking of narcotics, weapons and humans in terms of profits. It often involves the same smugglers and criminal networks. When combined with other environmental crimes, such as illegal fishing and logging, the estimated worth of such trafficking rises to US$180 billion a year, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Through investigations led by cross-border teams of journalists and the production of in-depth reports, we aim to expose these smuggling networks and how they work, and highlight the impact this type of criminal activity has on society. We also hope to identify gaps in law enforcement that allow illegal trafficking to thrive, and share success stories.

We chose to focus on Europe because the countries there serve as both transit hubs and consumer markets. But media coverage, and therefore public awareness, is frequently focused on major source and destination countries in Africa and Asia. Understanding and exposing those complicit in these activities, as well as those that appear to be undertaking significant action, are important steps toward more effective policy reform.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

To best capture how these European trafficking hubs and networks operate, we will support investigations by journalists working across borders, nationalities and languages.

Key to this effort will be our partnership with Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, a South African-based organization that converts publically available data into tools for use by journalists, policymakers and the general public. In 2014, for example, Oxpeckers created a tracker that documents prosecutions and court cases involving alleged rhino poachers.

Our story-telling will draw on data, maps and other interactive graphics to illustrate visually this region’s importance as a trafficking hub and create powerful narratives that reveal the impact of this type of trafficking.

Any new data outputs that our investigations produce will be made widely and publically available through EJN and its partners’ networks.

Ultimately, this project will expose how transnational trafficking occurs and reveal trends in trade flows. It will explain what drives the demand and supply of illegal wildlife products and examine how efforts to crack down on the trade are working. Collaboration will ensure that our work in Europe builds off an informed understanding of how the region fits into the wider trafficking picture as well as capture the impact such activity has on local communities.


This project is made possible through funding from the Oak Foundation.

Program Team