Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) threatens biodiversity globally. But its impacts are not only on individual species: IWT can impact livelihoods, where it affects local harvests (e.g., reduced fish stocks), restricts local access (e.g., tightened forest regulations), or presents physical risks. It yields cascading ecological impacts and diverse non-economic impacts (e.g., cultural, scientific, historical impacts of species loss). It also reflects lost taxes (e.g., from legal timber trade) and increases public spending (e.g., on additional monitoring, reintroductions).
The magnitude of these impacts are rarely reflected in the weak sanctions perpetrators receive. This fails to send clear deterrence signals, recover money for conservation or compensate victims.
To date, there are no robust global standards for IWT sanctions. Moreover, there is uncertainty over how to identify, measure and account for the actual scales of IWT harm. We also have little understanding of how judges and prosecutors perceive IWT harm, although their work shapes enforcement outcomes. These gaps fundamentally limit our ability to meaningfully account for the harm caused by IWT.
THE WILDS APPROACH
WILDS helps to conceptualise the harm caused by IWT, so that legal sanctions can better reflect the on-the-ground realities of harm the IWT causes.
While many efforts support traditional IWT enforcement efforts (monitoring, fines, imprisonment), WILDS is unique in its application of liability for environmental harm to IWT cases. In many countries, liability for environmental harm is already applied to oil pollution cases, where polluters are sued to recover the costs of clean-up and to compensate victims. This same approach could potentially be applied to IWT cases.
This approach has the potential to shift how people think about IWT damages. It has profound implications for conservation and livelihoods, as it increases sanctions, while opening new opportunities for people to seek compensation for IWT-related harms.