The illegal wildlife trade is when animals are illegally collected, transported and sold. It applies to live animals or animal products. Wildlife trade also encompasses the illegal trade of plant material. Trafficking can take place across international borders as well as domestically.
Interpol places the current value of wildlife trafficking at between 10 and 20 million (US) dollars annually.
Some of the items involved in wildlife trafficking include exotic pets, food, medicine, clothing and jewellery. Animal parts such as ivory and internal organs are also involved.
What’s the issue?
In 2011 the 13 largest seizures of ivory alone, yielded 23 metric tonnes of ivory. This figure represents 2,500 elephants being killed by poachers in that year alone. It is estimated that in 2013 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers to fuel the illegal wildlife trade.
Experts at TRAFFIC estimate that the money being made from wildlife trafficking amounts to hundreds of millions. Poor people are drawn to the industry due to the large amounts people who are prepared to pay for these animals and animal products.
Some people do receive the correct permits and are able to create products from wildlife. They can then be used for food, medicines and a range of other products. This harvesting is controlled and it is know what products are being taken.
Now though the illegal takings are escalating and many animals are coming under threat.
Recently myths have surfaced in Vietnam relating to rhino horns. Some people claim that rhino horn is a cure for cancer. No evidence exists for this but people still continue with this practice. During 2013 900 rhinos were poached in South Africa. Currently the price for rhino horn is rivalling the price for gold.
Bush meat is another major portion of wildlife trafficking. Some people prefer wild animals as their source of protein and in some places throughout Africa monkey meat is considered to be a delicacy. Currently an estimated 40,000 monkeys are being consumed via smuggling. This meat is supplied to Europe, the United States and Africa.
In Asia the demand for traditional medicines is making up a large portion of the issue. People assume that certain organs or body parts have spiritual or healing powers. In some areas ‘tiger wine’ which is made from tiger bones is believed to give one the strength of a tiger. The issue is increasing as the wealth in these areas does.
traAnother issue which is very big in Asia is taking animals for pets. People get these animals as little babies and then they grow up. When this happens the people get rid of the animal as they can no longer handle them.
Most people will encounter a product from the illegal wildlife trade. Currently the largest categories of wildlife trafficking are timber and seafood. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association $100 billion of fish is traded each year and $200 billion of timber is sold from illegal sources.
Is there a solution?
Yes people need to stop buying the products to end the demand. If the poachers have no monetary gain which they can earn from trading these animals they will have no reason to continue doing it.
It is okay still to use certified sustainable products. Timber, fish and other products which are illegally traded can be brought from sustainable sources which are managed to stop them from damaging wild populations. Some certifiers include the Marine and Forest Stewardship councils.
What can you do to help?
To help you simply need to look for products which are certified. As such you know they have been assessed to make sure they are doing no damage. You can also ask questions of anyone you purchase anything from so you can make sure it is not from an illegal source.
Worldwildlife.org, (2014). Illegal Wildlife Trade | Threats | WWF. [online] Available at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
Wikipedia, (2014). Wildlife smuggling. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_smuggling [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
Traffic.org, (2014). TRAFFIC – Wildlife Trade. [online] Available at: http://www.traffic.org/trade/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2014].
By surtr (Flickr: luwak (civet cat)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By surtr (Flickr: luwak (civet cat)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons