Wildlife crime is an area of study typically defined from a legalistic perspective as an act in contravention of laws protecting wildlife. These crimes occur both within and across national borders and may include trafficking in wildlife or wildlife products. Internationally, wildlife crime is regulated by a series of conventions, with CITES being the most important for the regulation of trade. While these conventions are international in scope, they must be administered by signatory nations through domestic laws. Domestic laws are enacted within local contexts and are as varied as the crimes themselves, regulating hunting, transportation, use, and sale of wildlife. Several international organizations (e.g., INTERPOL) facilitate collaboration between countries, but these organizations do not have law enforcement authority, so enforcement occurs primarily at the domestic, state, and regional level, following the domestically enacted law.
Scholars have taken a variety of approaches to define and understand various types of wildlife crime and criminals. Some have used a stage-based approach to develop typologies of wildlife crime based on the location of the crime or the criminal within the supply chain, while other criminal typologies are based on underlying motivations. In addition to typological approaches, more general theoretical frameworks (e.g., opportunity theory) have been used to explain these motivations and drivers of crime. More broadly, wildlife crime can be situated and understood within overarching theoretical perspectives, including Green Criminology and Conservation Criminology. Green criminologists define wildlife crime in terms of harm to animals, regardless of whether the act was against the law, and examine how power and inequality produce these harms. Conservation Criminologists, on the other hand, advocate taking an interdisciplinary approach to systematically define and understand environmental risks, including those related to wildlife.
The diversity of perspectives and approaches has produced a wildlife crime literature that is extremely varied, ranging from research on hunting and poaching to trafficking and enforcement. The continued pursuit of novel theoretical perspectives and methodological practices is necessitated by persistent criminal threats to wildlife, particularly to endangered species. Scholar must therefore continue to develop, test, and refine theory and methodological approaches in order to empirically guide wildlife conservation strategy.