Photographs by Brent Stirton

WHAT IS WILDLIFE?

The term “wildlife” refers to all fauna and flora. “Fauna” comprises all animals such as mammals, reptiles, birds and fish, while “flora” includes plants such as orchids and trees.

WHAT IS THE WILDLIFE TRADE?

For centuries, animal and plant life has been the object of trade by humans. Today, the trading takes place on a global scale, and is commonly divided into two categories. First, the legal wildlife trade refers to the commerce or harvesting of species as regulated by government entities. Ideally, this is a trade that is mindful of conservation concerns in the sense that quotas can be established, serving to minimize the risks of over-exploitation. Second, the illegal wildlife trade involves the unregulated and often unsustainable trafficking of species and/or their by-products; species are poached from their natural habitats and smuggled to buyers by way of lucrative clandestine networks.

WHAT IS THE DEMAND?

The wildlife trade is consumer-driven. Indeed, as demand for wildlife products rises, so does the magnitude of illegal trafficking. Products include live species or their derivatives, which can end up as foods, ornaments, construction materials, medicinal ingredients, etc. According to Wyatt (Wildlife Trafficking, 2013), demand is most important in China and in the USA, followed closely by the European Union and Southeast Asia.

HOW MUCH IS THE GLOBAL TRADE WORTH?

While the exact financial scope of the trade is unknown, estimates have placed its yearly value in the billions of dollars range. According to WWF, this makes it the fourth most lucrative illegal traffic behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking. While this global black market economy is a boon for organized crime it can also be a principle source of income for local communities.

WHAT ARE WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING “HOTSPOTS”?

While not every country is similarly impacted by the trade, all regions of the planet are involved, either as source, transit or destination areas. Often, species are poached from high biodiversity areas (such as South America, Africa or South and Southeast Asia) and end up in destination countries by way of an obscure chain of intermediaries. Today, the international dimension of the trade makes it especially difficult to trace and to eradicate.

WHAT IMPACT DOES ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING HAVE ON BIODIVERSITY?

According to WWF, the indiscriminate poaching of wildlife is the second most important threat to the survival of species, after habitat loss. Similarly, dwindling numbers of a species impacts the ecosystem it is a part of, as does the introduction of foreign species into new environments. The commerce can also pose a risk to health in the event that pathogens are spread along the same international routes.

WHO ARE THE ACTORS WORKING TO CURB ILLEGAL TRADING?

Conservation NGOs, International organizations and governments are together attempting to eradicate illegal trading by buffering border controls, cracking down on poaching and seeking to curb consumer demand. In their fight against the illicit trade, they can rely on legislative frameworks such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which outlines protection measures against potential over-exploitation. But there are many shortfalls still to contend with, including insufficient budget resources, a lack of specialized training, and inadequate coordination/information sharing between enforcement agencies.

SOURCES: TRAFFIC, WWF, CITES, IFAW, Wildlife trafficking (Wyatt, 2008)