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 the 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.
One of our primary areas of focus are pangolins, a species devastated by the wildlife trade. In Nigeria, Africa’s epicenter for wildlife trade, we work with Saint Mark’s Animal Hospital and Shelter which rescues pangolins from the booming illegal bushmeat trade in Lagos. Some rescued pangolins are just hours old, born on tables in meat markets and discarded in bins. Once rehabilitated, pangolins are released to places of safety.
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.
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.
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.
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.