Wildlife Crime and Legislation

Wildlife crime and poor legislation has a massive impact on the survival of animal species across the globe.

Illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to the survival of the most endangered species.

Wildlife trafficking is currently the fourth-largest illicit trade activity in the world, after drugs, arms and human trafficking, with an estimated annual value of $7 billion to $23 billion. Yet legislation is often weak and those laws that are in place frequently ignored. To make things even worse in some places police do not act because of corruption.

Wildlife trafficking is endangering species and sending wild animals to extinction.

The illegal trade is having such devastating effects that it is creating massive imbalances in ecosystems and causing irreversible biodiversity loss. In short, it is destroying our planet.

The statistics are staggering. More than 38 million animals are taken from the wilds of Brazil alone every year to sell on the illegal wildlife market. Millions of sharks are illegally killed year after year for shark fin soup; every day, an average of two rhinos are killed for their horns, and poachers wipe out an estimated 20,000 African elephants each year for illegal ivory trade. Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal, with poachers slaughtering an estimated 2.7 million pangolins in Africa every year and Asia’s insatiable demand for scales and meat fast-tracking the species to extinction.

Trade & Legislation
Rhino poaching is out of control in South Africa. ASI finances anti-poaching measures.

Lax wildlife legislation, legal trade and commercial breeding of wild animals is encouraging consumption, ultimately causing animal populations to plummet.

Around the world, wildlife farmers and traders claim their activities are not profit-driven or unethical, but beneficial to conserving wild animals. Many claim breeding species like lions and tigers in captivity and trading them on legal markets would satisfy demand and lower prices, making poaching and trafficking unprofitable.

But studies have shown that there is little to no conservation benefit to captive breeding programs of wild animals, and that legal trade only fuels illegal wildlife trade. By creating legal wildlife markets, international efforts to reduce the demand for wildlife products is hindered, making these markets almost impossible to control or regulate. Big game and trophy hunting, and trading animal parts, is estimated to be worth $200 million annually, yet only 3% of hunting fees reach local communities.

Trade & Legislation
Critically endangered pangolins are being devastated by the illegal wildlife trade. Image credit: WCRU/ZXZhang

What we do to help animals affected by wildlife crime

Tackling wildlife crime is a priority for ASI and we work on the ground with several dedicated partners to assist in rescuing and rehabilitating trafficked animals.

Democratic Republic of Congo Trade & Legislation

Bonobos, endangered great apes native only to the DRC, are routinely hunted from the wild by poachers looking for meat to sell at markets (bushmeat), and to be kept as exotic pets. Some superstitious people hack off the apes’ body parts – falsely believed to have magical and medicinal properties. Bonobo populations have dropped dramatically over the last 30 years. It is estimated that as few as 10,000 remain in the wild today. 

These sensitive, forest-dwelling creatures perform a vital role as seed dispersers, critical for forest regeneration in the rapidly declining wilderness areas of the DRC. Killing even small numbers of bonobos can critically impact the species’ population and, in turn, habitats they keep healthy. We are working with Friends of Bonobos, an organization that has the world’s only bonobo sanctuary and rewilding program. With your support, we are helping this devoted team rescue bonobos, provide them with essential care and rehabilitation and release them in a protected reserve.

Trade & Legislation
ASI supports our partner on the ground, Friends of Bonobos, in the rehabilitation and rewilding of bonobos rescued from poaching in the DRC.
 

Madagascar Trade & Legislation

In 2021, we worked with partners to help rescue over 800 rare and critically endangered radiated tortoises from smugglers in Madagascar. The tortoises, native to the island, were destined for the illegal pet trade. They are traded in such high numbers that they could be extinct within less than 20 years.

Trade & Legislation
Animal Survival International campaigner, Roxy de Saint Pern, talks with a local tribesman Vontsoa who helps protect and care for the radiated tortoises rescued by Turtle Survival Alliance Madagascar (TSA).

Montenegro  Trade & Legislation

In the balkan country of Montenegro, a sad and lonely five-year-old brown bear has spent his entire life caged just so that his owner can profit from tourists who visit the cage to take selfies for social media. Named Ljubo, this bear is so traumatized that he has resorted to self-harm, repeatedly biting himself and chewing the bars that confine him.

The local authorities have turned a blind eye to Ljubo’s suffering, but thanks to the support of animal lovers like you, ASI is able to work tirelessly to have him moved to a suitable bear sanctuary. Even though the fight to free poor Ljubo is fraught with challenges, we refuse to give up. 

Trade & Legislation
ASI is fighting to free Ljubo, a brown bear kept in miserable conditions in Montenegro. Image credit: Vic Dobry

In August 2023: Ljubo has acquired a cub,  just a helpless six-month-old. This supposed “owner” claims the cub appeared on his doorstep.

We’re working tirelessly with local and international authorities to secure the cub’s immediate removal from this illegal “zoo.” We know what awaits the cub if we fail: a life of misery as a caged tourist attraction, just like Ljubo – stressed, depressed, and devoid of hope.

Authorities offer assurances, but their past inaction speaks volumes. Only due to our relentless efforts did Ljubo receive a slightly larger enclosure. The fight for a true sanctuary continues, hampered by bureaucratic delays. Read our latest update here.

Trade & Legislation

East Africa Trade & Legislation

In the Seychelles, fragile, defenseless flying foxes are slaughtered in their thousands for ‘bat curry’, a disgusting dish that is touted as a local ‘delicacy’. Using crude fishing lines and hooks, locals rip these gentle creatures from the sky, and those that aren’t killed by the traps are beaten and stabbed before being skinned and eaten. Beyond this constant violence, their habitats are constantly shrinking, and they frequently collide with powerlines, killing them or leaving them fatally injured. 

Our partner works tirelessly to rescue injured and orphaned flying foxes – also known as fruit bats – and we have been a loyal supporter of their work, most recently raising funds for a crucial X-ray machine to help accurately diagnose and treat the animals they save.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: Protect Paradise Seychelles

South Africa Trade & Legislation

In South Africa, we work with various partners across the country, including Umoya Khulula Wildlife Centre and Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, who rescue and rehabilitate wildlife rescued from poachers and markets. Animals including pangolins, who usually require intensive long-term care after being smuggled, and young rhinos left orphaned when their mothers are killed for their horns. We help to fund specialized equipment, treatment and care for these vulnerable animals, until they are well enough to be released into the wild.

Trade & Legislation
A young pangolin receives care at the Umoya Khulula Wildlife Centre in South Africa.

Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

The Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province covers 630 square miles (1,640 square kilometers) of dense vegetation and is home to 600 endangered African savanna elephants. Africa’s elephant population is in the midst of a devastating poaching crisis, with more than 20,000 African elephants being killed each year for the illegal ivory trade. We actively support anti-poaching efforts in Addo by equipping teams on the ground with state-of-the-art equipment to better protect precious elephant populations.

Recently, Addo alerted us to an elephant family living dangerously close to a poaching hotspot. During a two-day operation using emergency funds, we and a team of wildlife vets located, darted and fitted the elephant family with new tracking devices powered by artificial intelligence. The devices monitor the animals’ movement, vital signs and even learn their behavior. In the event of abnormal activity, an alert is generated in real-time via network towers placed at various points across the park. This shortens response time to a matter of minutes and has completely revolutionized the way Addo’s anti-poaching unit tracks, monitors and protects endangered wildlife species.

Addo’s anti-poaching unit has already received multiple real-time alerts thanks to the new devices we provided, allowing them to save elephant lives. This has been a successful project , but our work is far from over. We intend to continue strengthening our anti-poaching efforts at Addo by fitting more elephants with life-saving, AI-enabled tracking devices.

We also finance canine anti-poaching patrols and provide surveillance equipment for the anti-poaching teams.

From time to time, we assist with urgent lion and cheetah issues in the park including providing veterinary care and relocations.

Trade & Legislation
ASI and a team of wildlife vets located, darted and fitted the elephant family with new tracking devices powered by artificial intelligence. Image credit: Zara King

Care for Wild Anti-poaching

In South Africa alone, at least one rhino is killed by poachers every day, all to feed the insatiable rhino horn market in Asia. To help protect these magnificent animals, we partnered with Care for Wild, which specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation and protection of orphaned and injured rhinos.

Our partner has a dedicated anti-poaching team that patrols vast areas of wilderness, hunting down the poachers who seek to slaughter wild animals. Vital members of the team include four highly trained dogs and 14 horses, who all need high-quality care. We supported the team by contributing to the animals’ dental and veterinary check-ups to ensure they’re healthy, strong and ready to continue combating wildlife crime.

Trade & Legislation

The Drakenstein Lion Park

Lion cubs Issam and Kelly were just a few months old when they were rescued on the border of Lebanon, frail, sick and drenched in their own waste. Due to poor nutrition, lack of exercise and confinement in cramped cages for unknown lengths of time, both had severe developmental issues – especially Issam, who could barely support himself on his underdeveloped back legs.

Our partner in South Africa stepped in to give these cubs a permanent home, along with all the care they need for the rest of their lives. To ease the significant financial burden this placed on our partner, and to ensure that they could continue to rescue animals in distress, we contributed towards their long-term care and rehabilitation, helping to give the cubs the care they dearly needed.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: Drakenstein Lion Park

FreeMe Wildlife

Our partner in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – FreeMe Wildlife (FMW) – rescues, rehabilitates and releases wild animals affected by habitat loss, climate change and the illegal wildlife trade. In just five years, the number of creatures they rescue has doubled, and with around 100 animals pouring into their clinic each month, FMW quickly reached capacity, running the risk of being forced to turn animals away. 

Through the generosity of our supporters, we were able to help FMW build additional wildlife enclosures for the injured, orphaned and traumatized animals they care for, increasing their capacity and giving countless rescues a second chance at life. 

We were also able to help when their rescue vehicle was totaled, which prevented them from saving animals in distress, by covering the shortfall in the funds they needed to purchase an appropriate replacement.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: FreeMe Wildlife (FMW)

HERD

In Africa, almost 100 elephants are killed every day for their tusks – and for every mother killed, a defenseless calf is left behind. Much like human children, elephant calves are incredibly reliant on their mothers, staying with them until they are 16, and orphaned and abandoned calves often die within days of being left on their own. 

Our partner in South Africa works tirelessly to rescue injured and abandoned elephant calves, giving them the love and care they need to thrive. One such calf is Khanyisa, a rare albino who was caught in a snare that tore into her cheeks, mouth and ear, and who was found and rescued in September 2023. With our donors’ support, we helped provide specialized milk formula for three months, aiding her on her road to recovery. 

Just a few months later, in March 2024, our partner found Phabeni wandering injured and alone, saving him in the nick of time. Fortunately, we were again able to raise the funds needed to help our partner provide the specialized care Phabeni needed, and both calves are well on their way to a full recovery.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: HERD

The Lions Foundation, South Africa

The Lions Foundation in Limpopo, South Africa, provides lifetime shelter and care to big cats rescued from circuses, private ownership, zoos and animal parks. ASI contributed towards relocating two young lions from a Kuwaiti zoo to Limpopo in 2022, after both were saved from the illegal pet trade in the Middle East. We also contributed to the costs of sterilization and food for some of the lions in their care. The big cats in Lions Foundations’ care have never learned to survive in the wild, and the sanctuary rehabilitates them to help them adjust to living in semi-wild enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitat.

Trade & Legislation
Image credit: The Lions Foundation

Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary, South  Africa

Panthera Africa cares for tigers, lions, leopards, caracals, servals and jackals that are emotionally, physically and/or genetically impaired and cannot be fully rehabilitated and released into the wild. Once at the sanctuary, they are cared for for the rest of their lives, where no hands-on interaction, breeding, or trade takes place. In 2023, ASI helped to relocate Gabriel, a 13-year-old leopard, to Panthera. Gabriel had been hand-reared and had only known a life of captivity. ASI funded his relocation to the sanctuary, where he is now thriving in his new life (2023). We also funded the delivery of 75 tonnes of sponsored gravel to Panthera after storms and flooding caused severe damage to the sanctuary.

Trade & Legislation
Image credit: Panthera

Umoya Khulula

Millions of pangolins – many of which are members of critically endangered subspecies – are mercilessly slaughtered every year, hunted for their scales, skin and flesh. In the face of near extinction, every single pangolin life counts. Pangolins are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate, requiring intensive and expensive round-the-clock care. 

Together with our partner in Tzaneen, South Africa, we are doing everything we can to save as many pangolins as possible. Through the generosity of our donors, we have been able to support our partner in rescuing and rehabilitating injured and orphaned pangolins, saving the species one life at a time.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: Umoya Khulula

West Africa Trade & Legislation

In Nigeria, a brutal ‘bushmeat’ trade sees hundreds of thousands of animals ripped from their natural environments, tortured in illegal markets, and eventually killed for their flesh. Amongst these are critically endangered animals like pangolins, and endangered animals such as lions, elephants and gorillas. 

We work with Greenfingers Wildlife Conservation Initiative (GWCI) to rescue these animals from meat markets and rehabilitate those they are able to save, and were able to help them give 30 injured and orphaned animals the care they need for three months, empowering our partner to continue their life-saving work.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: Greenfingers Wildlife Conservation Initiative (GWCI)

Thailand Trade & Legislation

In Thailand, big cats are bred to be poorly treated tourist attractions, or to be slaughtered for their body parts for use in archaic, unproven Asian ‘medicines’. Our partner, the Wildlife Friends Foundation Trust (WFFT), provides a beautiful sanctuary for big cats and other wild animals that have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade, the pet industry and the tourism industry, rehabilitating them and providing long-term care in a natural environment. 

In October 2023, WFFT was granted permission to rehome 15 abused tigers and leopards that were rescued from an appalling ‘farm’ – but urgently needed funds for the relocation. Through our supporters, we were able to contribute to this worthy cause, helping to give the big cats a new lease on life. A few months later, when authorities approved the relocation of the next group of big cats from the same condemned facility, our supporters once again rallied to help get these beautiful creatures to safety at WFFT.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: Amy Jones/WFFT

United Kingdom Trade & Legislation

National Anti-Snaring Campaign (NASC), United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, legal snaring is a daily act of murder that kills up to two million animals every year. Together with our partner, the National Anti-Snaring Campaign (NASC), we are working tirelessly to try to put an end to this horror through a complete ban on snaring. In 2021, ASI funded a report which exposed the inhumanity and inadequate animal welfare standards associated with snaring. The report highlighted the high incidence of unintended captures, many of which were crucial to conservation efforts.

Sadly, the animals are up against the might of the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which has publicly stated that snares are “an effective and relatively humane form of control.” Recently, DEFRA promised our expert consultant it would allow a “Call for Evidence on Snaring.” It reneged on this promise. Despite the challenges, we remain steadfast in our mission to ban snares in the UK.

Trade & Legislation
ASI are working tirelessly to try to put an end to this horror through a complete ban on snaring. Image credit: One Kind

Zimbabwe Trade & Legislation

In Zimbabwe, we work with the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU) to help fund critical anti-poaching equipment, drones and training for protecting the dwindling elephant population of the Lake Kariba region. The area has long been a hotspot for poachers. We also support the work of Dete Animal Rescue Trust (DART) in the Hwange region – a team that patrols around the clock to remove snares from the unfenced Hwange National Park and rescue animals caught in these cruel devices. Animals caught are either eaten by locals or killed and sold illegally for their meat and parts.

Trade & Legislation
Najam, a young lioness caught in a deadly snare, sustained injuries to her mouth, neck and front paw before being rescued by our partners, the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (BHAPU). Image credit: Steve Edwards

 

Friends of Hwange

In Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and the surrounding area, snares are becoming increasingly common. Usually, poachers are looking for animals they can slaughter and sell as bushmeat, or for those they can sell for their skin, scales or tusks. Our partner works tirelessly to remove as many snares as possible, but animals are frequently caught, requiring immediate rescue and medical attention.

African painted dogs are one of the many victims of snares. Currently, there are only 7,000 painted dogs left worldwide, with 10% of them living in the Hwange area – so each and every life counts. Working with our partner, we were able to help them provide emergency medical care to painted dogs caught in snares, while supporting the team’s constant efforts to remove snares from the wild before they snag an unsuspecting animal. 

Leopards are another common target for poachers, hunted for their skins to supply a brutal sector of the fashion industry. In just 50 years, an estimated one million leopards have been killed in Africa, and few are left in the wild. Unfortunately, due to their secretive nature, leopards are hard to track. With Hwange standing as one of the few remaining strongholds for leopards, we helped our partners enact a collar and tracking programme, assisting them in not only learning more about the reality facing leopards today, but to monitor and rescue those that get caught snares and other traps.

Trade & Legislation

Kariba Animal Welfare Fund Trust (KAWFT)

In Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba region, as in areas and countries across the world, poachers use cruel and deadly snares to try and snag their prey. These crude traps act as nooses, tightening more and more each day – and big animals such as elephants often end up dragging them around for days, slowly succumbing to the deepening injuries unless humans intervene.

Our partner in the Lake Kariba area monitors various herds of elephants, and when they spot one suffering from a worsening snare injury, they leap into action. However, the only safe and effective way to rush aid to an elephant in the wild is by darting them from the air, requiring an expensive helicopter charter – something our partner doesn’t always have the immediate funds for.

Through our supporters’ generosity, we have helped fund the de-snaring of three elephants: a female and a calf in July 2023, and a young male elephant named Masimba in February 2024.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: KAWFT

Matetsi Anti-Poaching Unit (MAPU)

In Zimbabwe, giraffes and other vulnerable wild animals are constantly being killed by poachers for no better reason than to make trinkets or to sell their meat on a thriving black market. These criminals lay hard-to-see snares which guarantee an excruciating death – either by starvation or injury, or at the hands of the poachers themselves.

Our partner, the Matetsi Anti-Poaching Unit (MAPU), has successfully stamped out poaching in the vast area they patrol, but noticed increased poaching levels in the conservancies surrounding the reserve. We supported their unit in two key ways: by replacing their crucial anti-poaching boat after it was destroyed by a crocodile, and by purchasing a drone equipped with infrared technology to effectively monitor the massive areas that border the reserve. Both of these tools have enhanced their anti-poaching efforts, helping ensure that even more animal lives can be saved.

Trade & Legislation
Credit: ASI/Taryn Slabbert

Globally Trade & Legislation

We work around the world to persuade governments to tighten and enforce legislation that stops poaching and prevents illegal wildlife trafficking. Through raising awareness and supporting projects on the ground, we hope to encourage understanding of the issues at stake, so solutions can be found, and wild animal populations can be restored

Wildlife crime and poor legislation has a massive impact on the survival of animal species across the globe.

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