Illegal wildlife trade is rated the fourth largest illicit trade activity in the world, after drugs, arms and human trafficking. An exploding human population, coupled with increased terrorism, that is often funded through wildlife crime, and burgeoning illegal online trading, is pushing demand for wildlife parts to unprecedented levels. This in turn is rapidly endangering species and sending wild animals to extinction. The business of illegal animal trade is so big that experts have estimated it to run into billions of dollars. Yet legislation to police wildlife crime is often lacking, poorly enforced or undermined by bribery and corruption.
Wildlife crime is the largest threat to the survival of the planet’s most endangered species, and it affects us too.
International wildlife legislation
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) exists to monitor and ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of species. This is done through international agreements between governments. But the effectiveness of wildlife conservation laws through CITES is being called into question. CITES legislation is often outdated, porous and lacking enforcement. Countries that are in contravention of CITES agreements are often either ignored or lightly reprehended. Many wildlife conservationists and non-profit organisations are calling for an overhaul of the CITES system so that environmental law breakers can be held accountable.
More than 38 million animals are taken from the wilds of Brazil every year to sell on the illegal pet trade market. Millions of sharks are illegally killed year after year for shark fin soup; three rhinos are poached every day for their horns and more than 60% of the world’s elephant population has been wiped out for the illegal trade in ivory. The list goes on. The illegal trade in wild animals is wiping out wildlife populations across the globe, creating massive imbalances in ecosystems and irreversible biodiversity loss.
Wildlife crime is not only affecting animals. Trafficking animals to exotic destinations is also a major health risk for humans and animals. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic is proof of this. Scientists say that the coronavirus originated in bats and transferred to pangolins and then humans at a wet market in China. Major deadly zoonotic disease outbreaks such as Covid-19, Ebola, Avian Flu and SARS are spread through contaminated bushmeat that is poached and then sold at markets across Africa and Asia. Unregulated methods of slaughter, transport and consumption as well as unsanitary conditions create ideal breeding grounds for pathogens. With no effective international wildlife policies for the captive wildlife industry, the world is at constant risk of future zoonotic outbreaks.
Poaching and wildlife trafficking networks operate as large and dangerous syndicates that undermine national security. Desperate and impoverished community members are exploited by syndicate leaders to perform illegal tasks for a pittance. Yet insufficient legislation, poor enforcement, and light sentences allow the illicit trade of wildlife to continue unabated.
Lax wildlife legislation, legal trade and commercial breeding of wild animals is encouraging consumption, ultimately causing wild populations to crash through trade in wild animals and their parts.
Around the world, wildlife farmers and traders insist that 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 revealed that there is little to no conservation benefit to captive breeding programs of wild animals and legal trade 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.
What we do
Tackling wildlife crime is a priority for ASI. 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.