Wildlife trade

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Assorted seashells, coral, shark jaws and dried blowfish on sale in Greece WildlifeTrade1.JPG
Assorted seashells, coral, shark jaws and dried blowfish on sale in Greece
Framed butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, Emperor scorpions and tarantula spiders on sale in Rhodes, Greece WildlifeTrade2.JPG
Framed butterflies, moths, beetles, bats, Emperor scorpions and tarantula spiders on sale in Rhodes, Greece

Wildlife trade refers to the commerce of products that are derived from non-domesticated animals or plants usually extracted from their natural environment or raised under controlled conditions. It can involve the trade of living or dead individuals, tissues such as skins, bones or meat, or other products. Legal wildlife trade is regulated by the United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which currently has 183 member countries called Parties. [1] Illegal wildlife trade is widespread and constitutes one of the major illegal economic activities, comparable to the traffic of drugs and weapons. [2] Wildlife trade is a serious conservation problem, has a negative effect on the viability of many wildlife populations and is one of the major threats to the survival of vertebrate species. [3] The illegal wildlife trade has been linked to the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases in humans, including emergent viruses. [4] [5] Global initiative like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 have a target to end the illegal supply of wildlife. [6]



Wildlife use is a general term for all uses of wildlife products, including ritual or religious uses, consumption of bushmeat and different forms of trade. Wildlife use is usually linked to hunting or poaching. Wildlife trade can be differentiated in legal and illegal trade, and both can have domestic (local or national) or international markets, but they might be often related with each-other. [7]

Ineffective monitoring of international wildlife trade

The volume of international trade in wildlife commodities is immense and continue to rise. According to an analysis to the 2012 Harmonized System customs statistics, global import of wildlife products amounted to US$187 billion, of which fisheries commodities accounted for $113 billion; plants and forestry products for $71 billion; non-fishery animal for $3 billion including live animals, parts and derivatives. [8]

However, the global trade of wildlife commodities is ineffectively monitored and accounted for due to the constraint of the HS Code System used by the customs worldwide. The majority of international imports of wildlife are only recorded in general categories such as plant or animal products with no further taxonomic detail (this is akin to importing metals without recording their element identity e.g. copper or iron). It is estimated that near 50% of the global import of plant and 70% of animals product are imported as general categories, with an exception for fisheries (ca. 5%) thanks to various multilateral fishery management agreements that requires taxon-specific fish catch reporting. [8] Many jurisdictions rely on the declared HS Code of the consignments for detection and prosecution of illegal wildlife import. The lack of specificity of HS code precludes effective monitoring and traceability of global wildlife trade. There is an increasing call for a reform of the Harmonized System to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of global wildlife trade. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Reasons for concern

Different forms of wildlife trade or use (utilization, hunting, trapping, collection or over-exploitation) are the second major threat to endangered mammals and it also ranks among the first ten threats to birds, amphibians and cycads. [3]

Wildlife trade threatens the local ecosystem, and puts all species under additional pressure at a time when they are facing threats such as over-fishing, pollution, dredging, deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction.[ citation needed ] In the food chain, species higher up on the ladder ensure that the species below them do not become too abundant (hence controlling the population of those below them). Animals lower on the ladder are often non-carnivorous (but instead herbivorous) and control the abundance of plant species in a region. Due to the very large amounts of species that are removed from the ecosystem, it is not inconceivable that environmental problems will result, similar to e.g. overfishing, which causes an overabundance of jellyfish.[ citation needed ]

According to the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Wildlife Foundation, the Coronavirus disease 2019 is linked to the destruction of nature, especially to deforestation, habitat loss in general and wildlife trade. The head of the UN convention on biological diversity stated: “We have seen many diseases emerge over the years, such as Zika, Aids, Sars and Ebola, and they all originated from animal populations under conditions of severe environmental pressures.” [15]

Wildlife markets in China have also been implicated in the 2002 SARS outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is thought that the market environment provided optimal conditions for the coronaviruses of zoonotic origin that caused both outbreaks to mutate and subsequently spread to humans.[ citation needed ]

Survival rate of species during transport

In some instances; such as the sale of chameleons from Madagascar, organisms are transported by boat or via the air to consumers. The survival rate of these is extremely poor (only 1% survival rate). [16] This is undoubtedly caused by the illegal nature; vendors rather not risk that the chameleons were to be discovered and so do not ship them in plain view. Due to the very low survival rate, it also means that far higher amounts of organisms (in this case chameleons) are taken away from the ecosystem, to make up for the losses.

Consequences for indigenous peoples

In many instances, tribal people have become the victims of the fallout from poaching. [17] With increased demand in the illegal wildlife trade, tribal people are often direct victims of the measures implemented to protect wildlife. Often reliant upon hunting for food, they are prevented from doing so, and are frequently illegally evicted from their lands following the creation of nature reserves aimed to protect animals. [18] Tribal people are often falsely accused of contributing to the decline of species – in the case of India, for example, they bear the brunt of anti-tiger poaching measures, [19] despite the main reason for the tiger population crash in the 20th century being due to hunting by European colonists and Indian elites. [20] In fact, contrary to popular belief, there is strong evidence to show that they effectively regulate and manage animal populations. [21]

Illegal wildlife trade

Shark fin for sale in Hong Kong SharkFinTin9.jpg
Shark fin for sale in Hong Kong

Interpol has estimated the extent of the illegal wildlife trade between $10 billion and $20 billion per year. While the trade is a global one, with routes extending to every continent, conservationists say the problem is most acute in Southeast Asia. There, trade linkages to key markets in China, the United States, and the European Union; lax law enforcement; weak border controls; and the perception of high profit and low risk contribute to large-scale commercial wildlife trafficking. [22] The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and external funders, is one response to the region's illegal wildlife trade networks.


Notable trade hubs of the wildlife trade include Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, which offers smugglers direct jet service to Europe, the Middle East, North America and Africa. The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is a known center of illicit wildlife trade, and the sale of lizards, primates, and other endangered species has been widely documented. Trade routes connecting in Southeast Asia link Madagascar to the United States (for the sale of turtles, lemurs, and other primates), Cambodia to Japan (for the sale of slow lorises as pets), and the sale of many species to China.

Despite international and local laws designed to crack down on the trade, live animals and animal parts — often those of endangered or threatened species - are sold in open-air markets throughout Asia. [23] The animals involved in the trade end up as trophies, or in specialty restaurants. Some are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Despite the name, elements of TCM are widely adopted throughout East and Southeast Asia, among both Chinese and non-Chinese communities.

The trade also includes demand for exotic pets especially birds, [24] and consumption of wildlife for meat. Large volumes of fresh water tortoises and turtles, snakes, pangolins and monitor lizards are consumed as meat in Asia, including in specialty restaurants that feature wildlife as gourmet dining.

Related to the exotic pet trade, captive wildlife are held in sanctuaries which have been involved in illegal wildlife trade. In Thailand the Tiger Temple was closed in 2016 due to being accused of clandestine exchange of tigers.


Many African species are traded both within the country of origin and internationally. [25] Charismatic mega-fauna are among commonly traded species native to the African continent including African elephants, pangolin, rhinoceros, leopards, and lions. Other animals such as vultures play a role in trade, both domestically and internationally. In northern Botswana the number of found elephant carcasses increased approximately 6 times in the years 2014 - 2018 and the country legalized elephant hunting in May 2019. At the same time, the elephants began to die from a mysterious disease that possibly presents a danger to humans. [26]

Morocco has been identified as a transit country for wildlife moving from Africa to Europe due to its porous borders with Spain. Wildlife is present in the markets as photo props, sold for decoration, used in medicinal practices, sold as pets and used to decorate shops. Large numbers of reptiles are sold in the markets, especially spur-thighed tortoises. Although leopards have most likely been extirpated from Morocco, their skins can regularly be seen sold openly as medicinal products or decoration in the markets. [27]

South America

Although the volume of animals traded may be greater in Southeast Asia, animal trading in Latin America is widespread as well.

In open air Amazon markets in Iquitos and Manaus, a variety of rainforest animals are sold openly as meat, such as agoutis, peccaries, turtles, turtle eggs, walking catfish, etc. In addition, many species are sold as pets. The keeping of parrots and monkeys as pets by villagers along the Amazon is commonplace. But the sale of these "companion" animals in open markets is rampant. Capturing the baby tamarins, marmosets, spider monkeys, saki monkeys, etc., in order to sell them, often requires shooting the mother primate out of a treetop with her clinging child; the youngster may or may not survive the fall. With the human population increasing, such practices have a serious impact on the future prospects for many threatened species. The United States is a popular destination for Amazonian rainforest animals. They are smuggled across borders the same way illegal drugs are - in the trunks of cars, in suitcases, in crates disguised as something else.

In Venezuela more than 400 animal species are involved in subsistence hunting, domestic and international (illegal) trade. These activities are widespread and might overlap in many regions, although they are driven by different markets and target different species. [7]


Through both deep web (password protected, encrypted) and dark web (special portal browsers) markets, participants can trade and transact illegal substances, including wildlife. However the amount of activity is still negligible compared to the amount on the open or surface web. As stated in an examination of search engine key words relating to wildlife trade in an article published by Conservation Biology , "This negligible level of activity related to the illegal trade of wildlife on the dark web relative to the open and increasing trade on the surface web may indicate a lack of successful enforcement against illegal wildlife trade on the surface web." [28]

A study conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) in 2018 revealed online sales of endangered wildlife (on the list of the global Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) was pervasive across Europe. Ivory accounted for almost 20 percent of the items offered. [29]

Organizations addressing illegal wildlife trade

Legal shipment of wildlife pelts, a form of legal wildlife trade An inspection of a legal shipment of wildlife pelts. Credit- Catherine J. Hibbard-USFWS (16333832492).jpg
Legal shipment of wildlife pelts, a form of legal wildlife trade

Legal trade of wildlife has occurred for many species for a number of reasons, including commercial trade, pet trade as well as conservation attempts. Whilst most examples of legal trade of wildlife are as a result of large population numbers or pests, there is potential for the use of legal trade to reduce illegal trade threatening many species. Legalizing the trade of species can allow for more regulated harvesting of animals and prevent illegal over-harvesting.

Many environmentalists, scientists, and zoologists around the world are mostly against legalizing pet trade of invasive or introduced species, as their release into the wild, be it intentional or not, could compete with the indigenous species, can lead to its endangerment.

Examples of successful wildlife trade



Trade of crocodiles in Australia has been largely successful. Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) and freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstoni) are listed under CITES Appendix II. Commercial harvesting of these crocodiles occurs in Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, including harvesting from wild populations as well as approved captive breeding programs based on quotas set by the Australian government. [30]


Kangaroos are currently legally harvested for commercial trade and export in Australia. There are a number of species included in the trade including:

Harvesting of kangaroos for legal trade does not occur in National Parks and is determined by quotas set by state government departments. Active kangaroo management has gained a commercial value in the trade of kangaroo meat, hides and other products. [31]

North America


Alligators have been traded commercially in Florida and other American states as part of a management program. [32] The use of legal trade and quotas have allowed management of a species as well as economic incentive for sustaining habitat with greater ecological benefits.

Legalising trade for endangered species

The 15th Conference of the Parties of CITES was held in Doha, Qatar in March 2010. [33]

Under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), species listed under Appendix I are threatened with extinction, and commercial trade in wild-caught specimens, or products derived from them, is prohibited. This rule applies to all species threatened with extinction, except in exceptional circumstances. [34] Commercial trade of endangered species listed under Appendix II and III is not prohibited, although Parties must provide non-detriment finding to show that the species in the wild is not being unsustainably harvested for the purpose of trade. Specimens of Appendix I species that were bred in captivity for commercial purposes are treated as Appendix II. An example of this is captive-bred saltwater crocodiles, with some wild populations listed in Appendix I and others in Appendix II.

Welfare in wildlife trade

Many animals are kept for months in markets waiting to be sold. The welfare of animals in trade is almost universally poor, with the vast majority of animals failing to receive even the most basic freedom from pain, hunger, distress, discomfort, and few opportunities to express normal behaviour. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

CITES Multilateral treaty

CITES is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. It was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The convention was opened for signature in 1973 and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.

Poaching Illegal hunting of wildlife

Poaching has been defined as the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals, usually associated with land use rights. Poaching was once performed by impoverished peasants for subsistence purposes and a supplement for meager diets. It was set against the hunting privileges of nobility and territorial rulers.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is one of the largest animal welfare and conservation charities in the world.The organization works to rescue individual animals, safeguard populations, preserve habitat, and advocate for greater protections. Brian Davies founded IFAW. IFAW was instrumental in ending the commercial seal hunt in Canada. In 1983 Europe banned all whitecoat harp seals products. This ban helped save over 1 million seals. IFAW operates in over 40 countries

Chinese pangolin Species of mammal

The Chinese pangolin is a pangolin native to the northern Indian subcontinent, northern parts of Southeast Asia and southern China. It has been listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2014, as the wild population is estimated to have declined by more than 80% in three pangolin generations, equal to 21 years. It is threatened by poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.

Tiger hunting

Tiger hunting is the capture and killing of tigers. Humans are the tigers' most significant predator, and illegal poaching is a major threat to the tigers. The Bengal tiger is the most common subspecies of tiger, constituting approximately 80% of the entire tiger population, and is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and India. It has been hunted in these countries for centuries. The tiger has historically been a popular big game animal and has been hunted for prestige as well as for taking trophies. Extensive poaching has continued even after such hunting became illegal and legal protection was provided to the tiger. Now a conservation-reliant endangered species, the majority of the world's tigers live in captivity. Tigers were once considered to be harder to hunt than lions, due to their habit of living alone in dense cover and not noisily asserting their presence with roars as often.

TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, is the leading non-governmental organisation working globally on the trade of wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity and sustainable development. It was founded in 1976 as a strategic alliance of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Wildlife law in Belize Wildlife Protection Act

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Wildlife inspector

A wildlife inspector is a person empowered by law to protect wildlife.

Wildlife Alliance non-profit organisation in the USA

Wildlife Alliance is an international non-profit wildlife and forest conservation organization with current programs and partnerships in Cambodia. It is headquartered in New York City, with offices in Phnom Penh. The logo of the organization is the Asian elephant, an emblematic species of Southeast Asia and the namesake for the organization's programs in the Southwest Elephant Corridor of the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia. Suwanna Gauntlett is the Founder and CEO of Wildlife Alliance and one of the original founders of WildAid. The organization is governed by a Board of Directors, and a International Advisory Board provides guidance on strategy, fundraising, and outreach.

Ernie Cooper Canadian environmentalist

Ernest Walter Thomas Cooper was the first Wildlife Inspector in Canada. He was formerly the Director for the conservation organization WWF-Canada and the Canadian National Representative of TRAFFIC the global wildlife trade monitoring network. He left WWF and TRAFFIC in 2014, and formed an environmental consulting business, specialising in wildlife trade issues. In 2009, an article in Canadian Geographic referred to Cooper as "Canada’s top wildlife-trafficking investigator."

Wildlife smuggling

Wildlife smuggling or trafficking involves the illegal gathering, transportation, and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This can be done either internationally or domestically. Estimates of the money generated by wildlife smuggling vary, in part because of its illegal nature. "Wildlife smuggling is estimated at $7.8bn to $10bn a year, according to the U.S. State Department. The U.S. State Department also lists wildlife trafficking as the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world." The illegal nature of such activities makes determining the amount of money involved incredibly difficult. When considered with illegal timber and fisheries, wildlife trafficking is a major illegal trade along with narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeit products.

Ivory trade

The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, African and Asian elephants.

The Freeland Foundation is an international NGO headquartered in Bangkok which works in Asia on environmental conservation and on human rights. The organization intends to stop wildlife and human trafficking.

The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) was officially launched on 1 December 2005, as a regional inter-agency and inter-governmental initiative to counter the illegal cross-border trade in endangered flora and fauna. It helps countries share information on and tackle cross-border wildlife crime and facilitates the exchange of regional best practices in combating those crimes. As the world's largest wildlife law enforcement network, it comprises the law enforcement agencies of the 10 ASEAN countries forming a regional intergovernmental law-enforcement network.

Conservation of slow lorises Conservation management of the nocturnal primates in Asia

Slow lorises are nocturnal strepsirrhine primates in the genus Nycticebus that live in the rainforests of South and Southeast Asia. They are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation from deforestation, selective logging, and slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as by collection and hunting for the wildlife trade, including the exotic pet trade, and for use in traditional medicine and as bushmeat. Because of these and other threats, all five species of slow loris are listed as either "Vulnerable" or "Endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their conservation status was originally listed as "Least Concern" in 2000 because of imprecise population surveys and the frequency in which these primates were found in animal markets. Because of their rapidly declining populations and local extinctions, their status was updated and in 2007 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) elevated them to Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade. Local laws also protect slow lorises from hunting and trade, but enforcement is lacking in most areas.

International parrot trade worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of parrots

The international trade in parrots is a lucrative enterprise, and forms an important part of the international wildlife trade. As parrots have become increasingly endangered, many countries have placed restrictions on the trade and/or prohibited the trade altogether. Despite the restriction on trade in many countries however, the market still operates both legally and illegally.

Species affected by poaching

Species affected by poaching refers both to the effects of illegal hunting and fishing or capturing of wild animals on certain species, and, in a recent usage, the illegal harvesting of wild plant species. The article provides an overview of species currently endangered or impaired by poaching in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and South-East Asia.

Pangolin trade Illegal poaching, trafficking, and sale of pangolins, parts of pangolins, or pangolin-derived products

The pangolin trade is the illegal poaching, trafficking, and sale of pangolins, parts of pangolins, or pangolin-derived products on the black market. Pangolins are believed to be the world's most trafficked mammal, accounting for as much as 20% of all illegal wildlife trade. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than a million pangolins were poached in the decade prior to 2014.

Steven R. Galster is an American environmental and human rights investigator and counter-trafficking program designer. Since 1987, he has planned and participated in investigations and remedial programs to stop wildlife and human trafficking and to mitigate corruption and build governance in Asia, Africa, Russia, South America and the USA.

Wildlife smuggling in southern Africa

The wildlife trafficking network in southern Africa involves the illicit extraction, transportation and transaction of wildlife within and across the nations of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Involvement in the illegal trading network can be divided into three general roles: poachers, traffickers and intermediaries, and consumers. There are a wide range of motives depending on an individual's role in the network. Some motivations include profit, sustenance, and reducing human-wildlife conflict.


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Further reading