Follow the money: How financial investigations can help in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade

Photo courtesy of Rod Khattabi
Publié: 06 mars 2023
Dernière modification: 06 mars 2023
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The illegal exploitation of the world’s wild flora and fauna is a serious and growing problem globally. It impacts negatively on economic and social development, security and governance. Wildlife and forest crime have all the hallmarks of transnational organized crime and is frequently linked to other forms of serious crime such as fraud, corruption and money laundering. It creates huge criminal profits. Part of the Global Wildlife Program's response to wildlife and forest crime through the UNDP-GEF-USAID project “Reducing Maritime Trafficking of Wildlife between Africa and Asia” is to help tackle the financial flows targeting the way in which the organized criminal gangs pay the operational costs of poaching or illegal logging. The profits from these crimes also have to move across borders and continents and so by bringing together law enforcement, financial intelligence units, prosecution and the private sector (in particular financial institutions), investigations can be conducted with greater success.


Afrique de l'Est et du Sud
Asie de l'Est
Asie du Sud
Asie du Sud-Est
Ampleur de la mise en œuvre
Désert chaud
Désert côtier
Désert froid
Prairie tempérée, savane, maquis
Prairie tropicale, savane, maquis
Toundra, prairie montane
Écosystèmes de désert
Écosystémes des prairies
Braconnage et la criminalité environnementale
Gestion des espèces
Une seule santé
Commerce des animaux sauvages et conflits homme-animaux sauvages
Perte de biodiversité
Gestion inefficace des ressources financières
Manque d'autres possibilités de revenu
Extraction de ressources matérielles
Manque de sensibilisation du public et des décideurs
Manque de capacités techniques
Mauvaise surveillance et application de la loi
Mauvaise gouvernance et participation
Objectifs de développement durable
ODD 12 - Consommation et production responsables
ODD 15 - Vie terrestre
ODD 16 - Paix, justice et institutions efficaces
ODD 17 - Partenariats pour la réalisation des objectifs
Objectifs d’Aichi
Objectif 1: Sensibilisation accrue de la biodiversité
Objectif 2: Valeurs de la biodiversité intégrées
Objectif 3: Attraits réformées
Objectif 4: Production et consommation durables
Objectif 12: Réduction du risque d'extinction


Africa and Asia are the primary focus, but the reach is global | Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda


Wildlife crime is a complex, global problem that needs to be addressed through various strategies. One of the challenges is that financial investigation and asset recovery techniques are still rarely used by law enforcement officers in the EAC when dealing with wildlife crime, resulting in low conviction rates. This is an obvious capacity gap in wildlife crime law enforcement in the region. Despite recent efforts to close this gap, current availability of training remains below the actual needs of government agencies. A recent survey by GFF among law enforcement officers of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force found that 95% of officers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda have limited knowledge and skills on financial investigation and asset recovery techniques and would benefit from trainings. Enhanced capacity for specialized investigative units such as Financial Investigation and Asset Recovery Units, and Customs, Wildlife and Forest Authorities and Police is invaluable for wildlife trafficking cases.


The beneficiaries for this work include: wildlife, local communities, and broader national/global stakeholders that benefit from protecting these species.

Comment les blocs constitutifs interagissent-ils entre eux dans la solution?

Forensic accounting serves as a key investigative tool for generating leads, uncovering illegal wildlife trafficking operations, and providing evidence for eventual prosecutions. Once the investigation has identified a suspect (or suspects), multi-jurisdictional cooperation is essential to ensure perpetrators are arrested and brought to justice. Finally, uniform sentencing and an informed judiciary are vital in preserving the deterrent effects of interdiction, and in removing the profit motives from illegal wildlife trafficking.


The goal was to leverage the expertise of law enforcement, academia, and governments to facilitate capacity building, training, and awareness efforts to:

  • Develop strategic partnerships among key cross-sector stakeholders.
  • Increase collaboration between law enforcement agencies and national governments.
  • Improve methods and provide transparency around best practices in combating environmental crime.
  • Enhance intelligence sharing and interagency cooperation.

Demonstrated positive impacts include:

1. Developed cooperation with other relevant initiatives in the East African Community

2. Conducted detailed training curriculums based on the specific identified needs
3. Conducted Basic and Advanced Training Workshops for key stakeholders in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda
4. Organized follow-up mentoring remotely and in person


Photo courtesy of Rod Khattabi

Question 1: Can you just tell us about your work?

My name is Rod Khattabi. I'm the Chief Accountability Officer and the Justice Initiative director for Grace Farms Foundation. I have a background in federal law enforcement and started my career with the IRS as a special agent investigating financial crimes - tax evasion, money laundering - that was my expertise. I then transferred as a Special agent to the United States Customs Service and then the United States Department of Homeland Security. Now I work with Grace Farms Foundation to run their justice initiative, mainly to combat human trafficking and environmental crimes.

Question 2: Why did you start using financial investigations to fight the illegal wildlife trade?

I never really worked on wildlife crimes until 2016. I went to South Africa with my friend Mark Fowler (his father was Jim Fowler, who co-hosted the popular television series, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom) and he said to me, let's go to Kruger National Park. When we got there I saw some killings of animals, and then we were talking with the South African police about what happened and they said ‘you might want to work. Help us out. Work on wildlife trafficking because you have this experience in fighting organized crime that could help us.’ That’s where it started.

Question 3: What do financial investigations have to do with illegal wildlife trafficking?

There's a lot of money involved in wildlife trafficking.

The poachers are bad guys in one sense, but some of them are just surviving, trying to make a living and trying to make ends meet. They're not doing it because they want to do it. They do it for the money. It's all about money. You really can change the whole system with money.

The major culprits are the ones that are making tons of money on the illegal wildlife trade. And that's the reason you have to be involved in a financial investigation. To find those that are at the top of this organized crime. Those are the ones that set this up. They set up schemes, routes they use, they launder the money either through couriers, through trade-based money laundering, and since it involves such gigantic amounts of money, so you have to go after the money. They're more afraid of their assets being seized than being in prison because they know even when they’re in prison, they can still function. But if you take the money, you disrupt the whole flow. You disrupt the whole organization and hopefully you will eliminate this organization.


Contribué par

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Andrea Egan United Nations Development Programme

Autres contributeurs

Grace Farms Foundation