New International Maritime Organization guidelines to combat wildlife smuggling

Posted on May, 16 2022

International Maritime Organization adopts new guidelines to combat wildlife smuggling: Global shipping to focus on bringing down the illegal networks exploiting maritime supply chains to traffic wildlife.

On the 13 of May 2022, the 46th Meeting of the Facilitation Committee (FAL46) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted new ‘Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Wildlife on Ships Engaged in International Maritime Traffic’.

This endorsement by the United Nations’ specialised agency sends a strong message on the growing international engagement against the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and its impacts on global biodiversity, directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild.

The Guidelines were formally submitted to FAL46 by Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Kenya, Tanzania, the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Organisation of Airports and Seaports Police (INTERPORTPOLICE). This is the first time the IMO has taken a bold step to combat IWT exploiting the maritime shipping industry. The Guidelines provide extensive recommendations for both government agencies and the private sector to increase due diligence over this criminal activity. Formal efforts started in FAL44 (44th Meeting of the Facilitation Committee in 2020) led by the Republic of Kenya with a working group composed of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), WWF, TRAFFIC and United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce.

"We are thrilled that the IMO Member States have made this commitment to tackling the illegal networks that exploit maritime supply chains to traffic wildlife. These new Guidelines, including the Red Flag Compendium, will provide a fundamental resource to aid governments and the private sector to take collaborative action against the illegal wildlife trade and help to conserve our global biodiversity."
Philippa Dyson, TRAFFIC's coordinator of transport sector engagement

Wildlife trafficking is a growing concern globally, threatening not only biodiversity but also ecosystems vital for climate change mitigation, domestic and international economies, and potentially human health. Organised criminal groups are increasingly taking part in this illegal activity which is still considered “low risk - high reward”. Smugglers exploit the weaknesses in supply chains to illegally transport endangered species, including live animals, animal products, plants and timber. With 90% of the world trade being seaborne and an estimated 72-90% of illicit wildlife volumes being trafficked through maritime transport, the sector holds a responsibility to engage against this transnational organised crime.  

The Guidelines highlight measures and procedures already available to the private sector and government agencies to combat wildlife trafficking within the industry.The document provides information on the nature and context of maritime smuggling of wildlife. It includes measures to prevent, detect and report wildlife trafficking within the maritime sector, with an emphasis on due diligence, responsibility-sharing and cooperation between all stakeholders along the supply chains.

"These guidelines present a gamechanger in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. Through dedicated and expert support from IMO member states and partners, government authorities and companies can implement greater safeguarding measures to protect their employees, business, and nature, critical to protecting the integrity of maritime supply chains from operational, economic, security, and zoonotic health risks.” 
Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader of WWF

“What was novel in 2020 has now become the UN standard to mitigate risks, investigate and report IWT in the shipping supply chain. The adoption of these guidelines will catalyse global cooperation in the maritime sector to fight IWT. We’re incredibly proud of our part in providing research, consultation and outreach support to the IMO partners and we’re pleased to announce that our work will continue as we embark on supporting IMO parties and the maritime industry with regional and national roll-out of these guidelines,” added Kinnaird.

Towards the adoption of the Guidelines, the working group collaborated with varied stakeholders, including governments, academia, professional organisations, private companies, non-governmental organisations and inter-governmental organisations. This resulted in broad support from IMO Members, observers and consultative organisations at FAL46.

The Republic of Kenya emphasised that “their government is thankful to all Member States who supported the development of these Guidelines and who contributed to their finalisation. This will greatly help to protect our wildlife, wherever it may be.”

TRAFFIC and WWF tool forms part of the new IMO guidelines

In July 2021, WWF and TRAFFIC launched the ‘The Red Flag Compendium for Wildlife and Timber Trafficking in Containerised Cargo’ which details the warning signs of corruption, wildlife smuggling and other related crimes. It features additional tools to identify prolifically trafficked CITES-listed species, including big cats, specific marine life, large mammal species such as rhino, elephant, and timber. This compendium includes at-risk routes as well as typical indicators of illicit activities such as questionable paperwork and discrepancies in information such as value, weight, and appearance. The tool now forms part of the new IMO Guidelines.

The Guidelines represent an essential step in recognizing the maritime sector’s role in tackling wildlife trafficking. They will help create and endorse policies that recognize and respect the importance of nature and support many of the world’s most threatened species.  WWF will keep engaging with the stakeholders by providing expertise and support in awareness-raising, training relevant staff, policy advocacy and adapting the sector’s practices.

VIDEO: Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade through Ports:


The UNDP-GEF-USAID Project “Reducing Maritime Trafficking of Wildlife between Africa and Asia”, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and USAID and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 2018, is a US$4 million partnership initiative under the GEF-financed, World Bank-led Global Wildlife Program. It aims to curb maritime wildlife trafficking, targeting key routes and transit points between Africa and Asia. The Global Wildlife Program (GWP) is a global partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development bringing together 37 projects across 32 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In January 2022, the UNDP-led project, in partnership with TRAFFIC, United for Wildlife, UNODC and WWF, published the awareness-raising video ‘Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade through Ports’ with complementing fact sheets to 1) raise awareness on the issue, impacts and scale of illegal wildlife trade through containerized cargo; 2) indicate red flags for law enforcement that may indicate possible illegal cargo, and 3) emphasize the importance of public and private sector collaboration to combat wildlife trafficking.

This is a joint press release between WWF and TRAFFIC

Shipping containers, Mombasa Sea Port, Kenya.
Shipping containers, Mombasa Sea Port, Kenya.
© Juozas Cernius / WWF-UK