Illegal Trade In Wildlife

The butterfly effect says that a small change in current state can result in large difference at a later stage, which means no decision is small. Even something as simple as going to market and picking out a product, can make a huge difference somewhere.

To make sure that the effects are positive lets dive into the information you need to make a responsible choice.

Each year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist curios, and medicine. While a great deal of this trade is legal and is not harming wild populations, a worryingly large proportion is illegal — and threatens the survival of many endangered species.

With overexploitation being the second-largest direct threat to many species after habitat loss, WWF addresses illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as a priority issue. It is often said that illegal wildlife trade is the third most valuable illicit commerce behind drugs and arms.

How does it affect you?

An ecosystem is a community of natural bodies that live and work together in an interconnected system depending on each other to continue the life cycle. It’s this circle of life that maintains the balance within ecology.

The over-harvesting of animals and plants does not only affect that individual species, but causes a wider imbalance in the whole system. As human life depends on the existence of a functioning planet Earth, careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats is required to avoid not only extinctions, but serious disturbances to the complex web of life.

Wildlife trade can also cause indirect harm through:

  • Introducing invasive species which then prey on, or compete with, native species. Many invasive species have been purposely introduced by wildlife traders; examples include the American Mink, the Red-eared Terrapin and countless plant species.
  • Incidental killing of non-target species. It is estimated that over a quarter of the global marine fisheries catch is incidental, unwanted, and discarded. These cause damage and death to a variety of animals besides the intended ones.

Social cost

The species traded are often already highly threatened and in danger of extinction, conditions under which wildlife is transport are often appalling, operators are unscrupulous and do not care how they damage the environment (for example they use cyanide to kill fish).

Life forms have been a source of inspiration and knowledge for a long time. For example, submarines are modeled on fish movement, electronic robots that can detect land mines were based on nematodes and airplanes were modeled after birds.

Apart from this, the research of Susanna Curtin at Bournemouth University indicates that ecotourists experience a tremendous sense of contentment from their wildlife encounters which makes them psychologically healthy.

Economic cost

Illegal trade undermines nations’ efforts to manage their natural resources sustainably and causes massive economic losses in lost earnings. Wildlife is vital to the lives of a high proportion of the world’s population, often the poorest.

Some rural households depend on local wild animals for their meat protein and on local trees for fuel, and both wild animals and plants provide components of traditional medicines used by the majority of people in the world. Many people in the developing world depend entirely on the continued availability of local wildlife resources.

Substances like timber, tusk, ivory, paper, gums, fur, leather, honey etc are very popular and hence very likely to be illegally traded. Since these trades are conducted covertly no-one can judge their worth. In some communities, goats and cows can be bartered in exchange for goods and services.


The macaw-bellied yellow or blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) is a macaw that occurs from Central America to Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. The macaw canindé faces several issues regarding extinction, are threatened primarily by smuggling and the illegal trade in birds. Info and Photo credit Digo_Souza

Scale on which it is happening

  • In 2007, 13 rhinos were killed for their horns by poachers in South Africa, but that increased to a shocking 1,004 in 2013. That equates to three rhinos being poached per day!
  • Populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000 – and the second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade.
  • Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 elephants—was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011.
  • Poaching threatens the last of our wild tigers that number as few as 3,200.
  • The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is a known center of illicit wildlife trade, and the sale of lizards, primates, and other endangered species has been widely documented.
  • Trade routes connecting in Southeast Asia link Madagascar to the United States (for the sale of turtles, lemurs, and other primates), Cambodia to Japan (for the sale of slow Loris as pets).


There are various organizations currently working to tackle this situation and end it effectively. For example,

  • ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)
  • South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN)
  • Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory
  • TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network

The international wildlife trade is a serious conservation problem, addressed by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which currently has 170 member countries called Parties. Many countries still lack strict national legislation and/or appropriate penalties for illegal wildlife trade.

To address this challenge, WWF helps countries comply with CITES regulations by helping to develop programmes, assists enforcement efforts and funds anti-poaching brigades. WWF and TRAFFIC carry out cutting-edge research which is used to create new plans for dealing with the illegal wildlife trade and also helps them promote the inclusion of new species in the CITES appendices or resolutions.

What you can do?

We should make informed choices when buying wildlife-based products. This includes not just the people buying the end product, but also shop-keepers, suppliers, and manufacturers. If we make sure not to buy the illegally sold wildlife products, we are attacking the problem at its center by making it a non-viable source of income.

Limiting trade in a particular species will control the damage being done to the environment, but enforcing this can be a real challenge especially in developing countries where equipment and training are often lacking. So we can do our part by incorporating responsible choices in our daily lives.

Photo by Chris Ruggles

Deepti Chauhan

By Deepti Chauhan

Deepti Chauhan graduated in Computer Science from Delhi College of Engineering after which she worked with Samsung as a software developer for 2 years. Deepti joined Earth5R to build changes that she wanted to see around herself, for the society and for the planet. She feels that to change the world we should start changing ourselves.

5 Replies to "Illegal Trade In Wildlife"

  • Tanushree Gupta
    April 23, 2015 (10:56 am)

    In this matter we should push the governments to protect threatened animal populations by increasing law enforcement, imposing strict deterrents, reducing demand for endangered species products.

  • Abheet
    April 12, 2015 (2:16 am)

    An ecosystem is a community of natural bodies that live and work together in an interconnected system depending on each other to continue the life cycle. It’s time that every human understand the cohesive nature of this circle of life that maintains the balance within ecology.

  • Ketul
    April 11, 2015 (9:26 am)

    This was a flying arrow that hit in the middle of the target. Three most important things from this article are:-
    1. The disturbance of food web. If the flora and fauna is reduced basically we are gonna starve.
    2. Social cost- it’s much more higher than economic cost. Imagine a future where you see only humans. Where will be our source of inspiration when all of us will hold same identity?
    3. Economic cost- in simple words this is a theft under the nose. We can smell it though not able to negate.
    What we can do? Along with being cautious about the product we buy we need to develop the sense of being responsible towards our own family members(animals and plants)

  • Rashmi
    April 9, 2015 (10:57 pm)


  • Rashmi
    April 9, 2015 (10:57 pm)

    Apart from making informed choices, I also thinking that legalizing the trade of such products would help the situation a lot. It seems like a dicey decision but illegal trade is happening anyway. So if we make it legalized, at least the black marketing will come to a halt and that would save a lot more animals.

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