Why Should we Care about Wildlife Trafficking?

There are many different estimates of the financial value of illicit wildlife trafficking worldwide, given the illegal nature of this trade. Unreported and unregulated fisheries trade alone are estimated at between US$4.2 billion and US$9.5 billion per year. Illegal timber trade is estimated as much as US$7 billion per year, and the illicit wildlife trafficking (excluding the previous two categories) as between US$7.8 billion and US$10 billion per year.

Combining these numbers, all illicit wildlife trafficking comprises the fourth largest global illegal trade after narcotics, humans and counterfeit products. 

In most cases, wildlife trafficking relies on the very same international criminal networks engaging in drugs and human trafficking, which diversify their income in this way. Traditionally, law enforcement has regarded illegal wildlife trade as a minor offence compared to weapons and drugs, thus allowing for a more reliable - yet sizable - source of income for criminal syndicates.

Different forms of wildlife trade or use (hunting, trapping, collection, exploitation) represent the most immediate threat to endangered mammals, birds, amphibians and cycads.

Wildlife trade threatens the local ecosystem, and puts all species under additional pressure at a time when they are facing threats such as over-fishing, pollution, dredging, deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction.

Throughout Africa, elephant numbers have plummeted by 76 percent since 1980 due largely to the demand of elephant ivory with an estimated 35,000 slaughtered by poachers in 2012 alone. In 1980, we estimated there were 1.2 million African elephants. Today, there are less than 420,000. Recent data released by WCS on forest elephants shows that nearly 10 percent of the world population was killed by poachers in 2012 and again in 2013. At this rate they will go extinct within ten years.

A major challenge to halting the ivory trade is the lack of effective law enforcement controls along the trade chain from Africa, through the transit states, and to the end consumer markets. Legal domestic ivory markets are an enforcement challenge and provide cover for laundering of ivory from illegally killed elephants in Africa. Once ivory is within a country’s borders, it becomes almost impossible to distinguish legal from illegal ivory. As long as demand for ivory remains high and enforcement efforts are low, the legal trade will continue to serve as a front and criminal syndicates will continue to drive elephant poaching across Africa.

While the largest ivory consumer nation is China, the U.S. also has one of the largest markets globally. A recent report commissioned by NRDC found that up to 90 percent of ivory in Los Angeles and 80 percent in San Francisco is likely illegal.

What is the impact of Wildlife Trafficking on wildlife populations? Find it out.

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