Main Issue

Wildlife populations are in widespread decline around the world. The decline has been so dramatic that it is estimated that the biomass of humans is now an order of magnitude higher than that of all wild mammals combined.

Habitat destruction and poaching to supply the international illegal wildlife trade are two key drivers of this grave problem. The value of illegal trade has been estimated at between $5 and $20 billion per year, making wildlife crime one of the most lucrative illegal business, following only narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons.

The conservation of elephants and rhinos has received considerable global attention, but other mammals are under severe pressure as well, including cats (e.g. lions, tigers, and snow leopards), non-human primates (e.g. great apes, monkeys), and pangolins, endangered, scaly-skinned mammals highly sought after for meat and scales that may be the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal. Many species of reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, invertebrates are also significantly impacted by poaching and illegal trade and require urgent attention.

The demand for wildlife products may be fueled by the perceived medicinal value of some products or the social status that is associated with them. Other drivers of demand include opportunistic buying driven by the desire to possess exotic pets and rare plants and animals.

What We Do

The GEF takes a holistic approach to tackling the poaching crisis by seeking to reduce both supply and demand which is driving the illegal wildlife trade, as well as developing targeted efforts to curb the actual trafficking. We support stronger monitoring and enforcement efforts, strengthening of legal and regulatory frameworks, and awareness raising.

Combatting the illegal wildlife trade requires the reinforcement of the rule of law along the value chain by apprehending, prosecuting, and convicting those engaged in poaching and trafficking. Logistics companies (shipping, airline, and land-based transport) that facilitate the import, transit, and export of goods, must take measures to prevent and penalize the abuse of their services for illicit wildlife trafficking.

On the demand side, governments and the private sector can help create awareness, reject the corporate “gifting” of illegal wildlife products, improve understanding of what drives consumer behavior, and support campaigns to change that behavior.  Some progress is being made in reducing poaching, trafficking, and demand for wildlife and wildlife products. One of the most important achievements in the fight against illegal wildlife trade was China’s decision to ban the domestic ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017. While this is encouraging, demand is still widespread because the cultures in many countries rely in some way upon wildlife resources for traditional medicines, clothing, food, and more recently, as a sign of prestige.


The GEF’s Global Wildlife Program (GWP) addresses the wildlife crisis across 19 countries in Africa and Asia. Launched in 2015, the GWP is a $131 million GEF grant program aimed at reducing the threats to wildlife by tackling the problems along the supply chain of illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products. Here is just a small sample of GEF’s work on curbing the illegal wildlife trade through the GWP:

Botswana • $6.0 million - Central Kalahari Game Reserve & Kalahari Transfrontier Park
Promoting an integrated landscape approach to manage drylands and prevent illegal wildlife trade through planning and range management; enhancing capacity to combat wildlife crime/trafficking and enforcement of wildlife policies and regulations; and by creating effective resource governance frameworks to facilitate rangeland monitoring and informed decision-making in land-use.

Mozambique • $15.8 million - Gorongosa National Park (Gorongosa-Marromeu Complex) & the Niassa National Reserve
Promoting the value of wildlife and combatting illegal wildlife trafficking, strengthening enforcement capacity in key protected areas, establishing conservancies to expand the Gorongosa Protected Area complex, and restoring degraded habitats and generating livelihoods.

Republic of Congo• $6.5 million - Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, & Ntokou Pikounda National Park
Building capacity and strengthening institutions, and involving local communities and indigenous people in forest resource management to conserve habitats and biodiversity, which are threatened by unregulated activities.

Looking Ahead

The GWP is investing in the reduction of poaching at the site level through engagement with local communities and by conserving and protecting wildlife natural habitats; controlling wildlife crime and reducing trafficking through effective law enforcement; and reducing demand for illegal wildlife by raising awareness. In GEF-7, the investments in the 19 participating countries in Africa and Asia will be complemented by expanding the geographic and species-scope of the GWP, and by promoting long-term sustainability by means of wildlife-based tourism.

In countries where there is significant pressure on threatened wildlife species, GEF plans to build the capacity to reduce poaching inside and outside of protected areas. Support could include the development of strategic plans to combat illegal trade when governments commit to an adequate budget for implementation to help ensure the sustainability of these investments. The GEF can support more effective awareness-raising campaigns to communicate the destabilizing effects of illicit wildlife trafficking on society beyond its direct environmental consequences.

Looking ahead, there are additional crucial issues to address in illegal wildlife trade. For instance, the closing of additional ivory markets (especially those in the region around the now- closed Chinese market); developing a better understanding of what drives consumer demand and how to change behavior; enhancing private sector engagement with governments: increasing training of judicial and prosecutorial personnel; and adoption of legislation to stiffen penalties in a broader range of countries. Investing in public awareness – and behavioral change – campaigns also remains a key necessity.