Assessing the Extent and Impact of Illicit Financial Flows in the Wildlife and Tourism Economic Sectors in Southern Africa

177 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2017

Date Written: July 4, 2017


This study on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) in the Wildlife and Tourism sectors in Southern Africa emanated from the TrustAfrica (TA) and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) project “Assessing the extent and impact of illicit financial flows in key economic sectors in Southern Africa”. The three components of the project are mining, agriculture and wildlife.

IFFs are illicit movements from one country to another of money or products that are illegally acquired. The money typically originates from three sources in the private sector: commercial tax evasion, trade misinvoicing and abusive transfer pricing. However, other types of criminal activity can produce IFFs, which in this study include the trafficking of live animals and plants and their products and associated corruption (bribery and theft by corrupt government officials) through which the proceeds end up in another country.

This wildlife trade and tourism IFF study is the first of its kind and the methodologies involved a combination of population modelling, estimated product offtakes and open source trade data. The trade research is limited to eight species groups – elephants, rhinos, lions, pangolins, crocodiles, abalone, sharks and rays, and cycads. The study concluded that for the period 2006-2014, Southern Africa lost almost US$ 1.5 billion in illicit transfers of funds or products overseas, or close to 50% of all wildlife commodity exports. Surprisingly, illegal exports of abalone meat made up almost half of this amount.

The IFFs in the wildlife tourism sector were much larger, estimated at over US$ 22 billion in the ten years 2006-2015, and deriving mainly from tax evasion and trade misinvoicing, sometimes involving offshore shell companies. We predicted that more than US$3 billion could have been lost in 2016 in the eight countries covered in this study.

The main causes of the huge losses to the economies of Southern Africa in wildlife trade were CITES trade bans and the fact that local communities were not empowered to manage what should rightfully be their resources on their land. Trade bans and disenfranchisement led communities to harvest illegally and to sell wildlife products to illegal exporters. The only way to mitigate these losses would be to do away with trade bans, bring most species into the legal sector, and establish supply and demand regulatory systems that would ensure conservation of the species while also satisfying legitimate stakeholder interests, primarily those of communities and enterprises that live in association with the wildlife and which share common habitats.

Note: Disclaimer: The findings in this report do not necessarily reflect the views of TA and OSISA.

Suggested Citation

Martin, Rowan and Stiles, Daniel, Assessing the Extent and Impact of Illicit Financial Flows in the Wildlife and Tourism Economic Sectors in Southern Africa (July 4, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Rowan Martin (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Daniel Stiles

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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