Brazil's biodiversity faces significant threats, including wildlife crime. Although wildlife is protected by law and there are enforcement agencies to administer penalties and impose fines, the effectiveness of this system is questionable. Tackling wildlife crime requires legislation aligned with well-structured mechanisms for surveillance and de facto punishment. We used data on notifications of violations and payment of fines associated with wildlife crime in the state of Pernambuco over 12 years as a proxy for efficiency in tackling wildlife crime in Brazil. We tracked 803 processes from 2000–2012, extracting data on the type of violation, the fine imposed, the length of process handling, and processing and payment status. The number of processes rose from 17 in 2004 to 167 in 2012, with 69% of cases occurring during 2008–2012. Only 37.6% of processes were concluded, with completion times of 286–4,558 days. Some processes had been open for 11.5 years. Fines totalling > USD 22 million were issued but only c. 1% of this amount was paid. Small fines are often pardoned or converted to a warning. Although enforcement has improved it is still inefficient, with errors in notification and data entry, a lengthy judicial process, and an inability to recover unpaid fines.