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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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. Read our latest update here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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