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Profiting Off Pangolins: How Organized Crime and Terrorism Leverages Wildlife Trafficking


Environmental crimes carry high profits and low penalties, attracting the attention of organized criminal organizations. In the European Union alone, the profits of some criminal networks involved in environmental crimes—from trafficking protected wild animals to waste and pollution crimes—reach millions of euros every year, according to Europol’s July 2022 report Environmental Crime in the Age of Climate Change.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth largest illicit transnational activity (behind narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeits), valued at $119 billion in 2020, according to a 2021 report Economic value of illegal wildlife trade entering the USA. For example, on 18 July, Malaysian authorities announced they had seized a massive haul of trafficked animal parts, including elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns, pangolin scales, and tiger bones. The collection of parts was worth around 80 million ringgit ($17.9 million).