The environment has become a key site of global governance because of its transboundary nature: forests, wildlife and oceans have all become central foci for networks of global governance which link international organizations, international financial institutions, states and non-governmental organizations. This article examines how contemporary forms of global governance can be challenged and even subverted. It uses the concept of shadow states introduced by William Reno to explore how invisible global networks flow through developing states, to show how they constitute important political and economic interest groups, and to assess what kinds of environmental impact they have. It explores how powerful these networks are, and whether they are able to challenge or subvert attempts to manage, control or govern the environment. The author provides an analysis of the ways in which the clandestine networks of shadow states impact on conservation initiatives in the developing world, focusing on the features of global environmental governance and the problems posed by illicit gem mining and trafficking in Madagascar.