Extinction is Crime

Family of elephants in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, 2016. Photo (c): Tim Wittig, all rights reserved.

Dr. Timothy Wittig is a conservationist, scientist, author, public speaker, and expert on wildlife trafficking and terrorist & illicit finance.

Since 2016, Tim has served as senior analyst and head of intelligence and analysis for the United for Wildlife Taskforces, a groundbreaking program of the Royal Foundation that uses actionable intelligence combined with high-level commitments to mobilize the worlds’ shipping companies, airlines, and banks to take meaningful action against global wildlife trafficking. In 2019, Tim joined the Basel Institute on Governance to continue and expand this work.

Tim’s professional background is in targeting illicit networks, intelligence analysis, and African and global security. A life-long environmentalist and outdoorsman, Tim, like many people today, believes reversing the current catastrophic extermination of nature is the single most important human issue of our time - a literal life-and-death struggle for the future of our common planet and ultimately humanity itself.

He came to work professionally in conservation after observing how the major threats to the environment today - species loss, climate change, pollution, et al - are all underpinned and driven often to a large extent by crime, corruption, and illicit activities. Documenting and confronting the illicit side of these threats to the world’s wildlife and ecosystems is critical, and is the focus of Tim’s work today.

To learn more about Tim and his work, check out / download some of his recent publications or feel free to reach out directly.


Terrorism, Conflict, and Ivory Trafficking: Myth & Reality (Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 2018)

Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking, and Organized Crime (in Haenlein, Cathy, M. L. R. Smith, eds. Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking and Security in Africa: Myths and Realities. Whitehall Paper 86. London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, 2016.)

A Social Model of Conservation to Fight Wildlife Trafficking: What Conservationists Can Learn from Public Health (Working Paper (2015, minor updates 2017)) 

Threat Finance (in Hahn, Erin, ed. Special Topics in Irregular Warfare: Understanding Resistance. US Army Special Operations Command, 2016)


How Prince William helped U.S. agents bust a major wildlife and drug smuggling network CBS News

Prince William, already one of the most recognizable faces in the conservation world, recognized the need to go after the big fish, and last month he told a group of business, law enforcement and NGO leaders gathered in London that his Royal Foundation's initiative, United for Wildlife (UFW), had struck upon a winning formula.

UFW launched two "Taskforces," which, through partnerships with some of the world's biggest shipping, transport and financial companies, have helped law enforcement agencies to connect the dots between the people killing animals, moving the illicit goods to the black market, and then profiting from them. Crucially, they have also helped expose the deep links between those networks and the ones that move other illegal goods around the world, as evidenced by the indictments unsealed Thursday in New York.

It's not a new model in law enforcement. It has been used for decades against global drug trafficking networks — but the case in New York is the first solid proof that the techniques and strategies that brought kingpins like Pablo Escobar and El Chapo to justice can also bring the full weight of the justice system to bear against the "untouchables" of the international wildlife trade.

Here is why it's different, and how it works…

How to Stop Poaching and Protect Endangered Species? Forget the ‘Kingpins’ New York Times

In the West, “organized criminals live in a somewhat parallel society,” said Tim Wittig, a conservation scientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. But among wildlife traffickers, “the big criminals are typically also big business people.”

“Usually, they’re involved in logistics-type businesses — trading or shipping companies, for example — or in commodity-based ones, which is why it’s easy for them to move things around,” he added.

These individuals are sometimes referred to as kingpins, a term that experts say is overused.

“Arresting a few alleged wildlife-trafficking ‘kingpins’ may be a useful symbolic tool for promoting the importance and feasibility of strong enforcement to the general public,” Dr. Wittig said. But “it is not likely to be effective in actually saving protected wildlife, especially if done in isolation.”

Changing this largely depends on changing the way the world addresses illegal wildlife trade.

Botswana lifts ban on elephant hunting CBS News

Wittig noted that the "human-wildlife conflict" cited by Botswana's government on Thursday is in fact "an important driver of involvement in poaching and wildlife trafficking. People living close to wildlife must feel they have a stake in protecting it."

"Organized criminal networks often prey on people in communities with unresolved human-wildlife conflict, offering them easy money to get involved in poaching or wildlife trafficking," Wittig said.