Using script analysis to understand the financial crimes involved in wildlife trafficking


Wildlife trafficking has evolved in the last few decades from a critical conservation concern to a global security threat. What was once thought to be small-scale opportunistic behavior has now become a large organized trade partly run by criminal networks. Most research on wildlife trafficking has focused on the drivers of the trade and its modus operandi for catching, moving, and selling wildlife. There has been little research on the financial aspects of wildlife trafficking, despite how useful financial laws could be to prosecute traffickers in countries where environmental laws are weak. This research uses the crime script model and Gottschalk’s (Journal of Financial Crime, 17(4), 441–458, 2010) financial crime classification to study the financial crimes committed by wildlife traffickers during the trafficking process. Results show that financial crimes, including corruption, fraud, and money laundering, are part of every stage of the trafficking process for every actor involved. This research locates “pinch points” where it is most effective to intervene to dismantle the financial networks involved in wildlife trafficking and suggests interventions based on situational crime prevention principles.

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    Given the underground nature of the illegal wildlife trade, it is difficult to quantify and estimates vary widely across the literature. This bracket is a commonly used estimate to indicate the large “dark figure” of this crime. Another common estimate is $5 to $20 billion USD annually [14].

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    Accessed at the following URL:

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    Tackling this issue will require close and continued cooperation between financial intelligence units (ex: the Financial Action Task Force), financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies, since there is no single agency that can effectively address all the aspects of the trade [97].


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The authors wish to thank Dr. Gohar Petrossian and the following John Jay College of Criminal Justice undergraduate students for their help in conducting this research as part of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomacy Lab Project: Adriana Alvarado, Daniel DeStefano, Elvia Gallardo, Ardijana Ivezic, Qing Shi Lu, and Megan McCarthy.

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Correspondence to Julie Viollaz.



Table 6 Script analysis of car theft for joyriding (adapted from Cornish [37])
Table 7 List of references used to build the crime script

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Viollaz, J., Graham, J. & Lantsman, L. Using script analysis to understand the financial crimes involved in wildlife trafficking. Crime Law Soc Change 69, 595–614 (2018).

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