The political economy of the illegal wildlife trade


What is the available political economy analysis of the illegal wildlife trade and the criminal networks involved?


This review is based on a rapid assessment of academic, donor and grey literature. A large part of recent scholarship in this area has been produced by international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), or else can be found in peer-reviewed academic journals. Authors do not appear to have engaged with the gender implications of IWT in the context of PEA.

  • Most recent literature on IWT acknowledges the importance of political economy issues such as the prevalence of governance failings in source countries. There is also a common recognition in much of the literature that political, economic, cultural and social factors drive both demand and supply sides of IWT, and that any effort to address the trade needs to be cognisant of these drivers.
  • However, it is very rare to find PEA tools or methods being used to analyse the drivers of the trade or to shape policy recommendations or interventions.
  • Despite consensus in the literature that IWT involves complex networks between transnational crime syndicates, poachers, armed non-state actors, traders and consumers, this review found little evidence of attempts to map the links between these actors or to look in detail at their operating practices. This may be a consequence of the fact that the trade is clandestine and therefore empirical evidence is limited.

Suggested citation

Laws, E. (2017). The political economy of the illegal wildlife trade. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies