The dark business of animal species trafficking
Illegal trafficking of animal species is a problem that has existed for centuries, but has increased dramatically in recent decades due to factors such as globalization, the demand for luxury goods and the disappearance of natural habitats. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that regulates trade in animals and plants, estimates that the annual value of this dark trade exceeds $20 billion[^1^].
This illegal trade is not only carried out in developing countries, but also involves developed countries, such as the United States and European countries. For example, Europe has been found to be a key market for trade in protected animal species, especially birds and reptiles.
The demand for exotic animals as pets, the search for traditional remedies and animal products and poaching for private collections are some of the main reasons behind this illegal trade. But how does this trade take place and what are the consequences for the species involved and for biodiversity in general?
The process of animal trafficking
Trafficking in animal species is often a complex and covert process involving a wide network of people, from poachers to traders and end buyers. Poachers often use cruel and destructive techniques to capture animals, such as traps, nets, poisons and firearms. These methods can cause irreparable damage to ecosystems and endanger other non-target species.
Once captured, the animals are transported across different countries and continents, often in inhumane conditions and with no regard for their welfare. It is estimated that 75% of trafficked animals die before reaching their final destination, either due to stress, disease or injuries sustained during transport.
The animals are then sold in clandestine markets or through the Internet, where they take advantage of legal loopholes and the lack of control to trade them undetected. The end buyers are usually people looking for exotic animals as pets, collectors of rare species or people who believe in the supposed healing or magical properties of certain animals and animal products.
Consequences of animal trafficking
The consequences of animal trafficking are devastating both for the animals involved and for biodiversity and ecosystems in general. Some of the main consequences include:
Species extinction: The illegal capture and sale of animals endangers many already endangered species, contributing to the loss of biodiversity worldwide. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), illegal trade is one of the main causes of species extinction, along with habitat destruction and climate change.
Habitat loss: The indiscriminate capture of animals can alter the balance of ecosystems, leading to the degradation and loss of habitats important for the survival of other species.
Spread of diseases: The transport of illegally captured animals can facilitate the spread of diseases locally and internationally, as these animals can carry pathogens that affect both other animal species and humans.
Corruption and organized crime: Animal trafficking is often linked to organized criminal networks, which may also be involved in other illegal activities such as drug and arms trafficking. In addition, corruption and lack of law enforcement by authorities can facilitate illegal trade in animal species.
What can we do to combat animal trafficking?
The fight against illegal trafficking of animal species is a task that requires the collaboration of different sectors and countries. Some measures that can be implemented include:
Strengthening laws and their enforcement: It is essential that countries review and update their laws related to trade in animal species and ensure their effective enforcement.
International cooperation: Cooperation between countries and international organizations is crucial to combat animal trafficking at a global level, sharing information and resources to dismantle the criminal networks involved.
Public education and awareness: Informing and educating the public about the devastating effects of animal trafficking and promoting responsible and ethical consumption of animal products can help reduce the demand for illegal animals and products.
Support for conservation projects: Supporting conservation and rehabilitation projects for endangered species and their habitats is essential to ensure their long-term survival and the preservation of biodiversity.
20 facts and figures on animal trafficking
- Illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion annually[^2^].
- More than 35,000 species of plants and animals are protected by CITES[^1^].
- Trafficking in animal species is the fourth most lucrative illegal business in the world, after drugs, arms and human trafficking[^3^].
Illegal trafficking of animal species affects more than 40% of the species threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List[^4^].
Illegal trade in African elephant ivory has led to a 30% decline in their population between 2007 and 2014[^5^].
More than 1,000 rhinos are poached each year in Africa for their horns, which are sold mainly in Asia for their supposed medicinal properties[^6^].
About 3,000 tigers are believed to live in captivity on tiger farms in Asia, where they are exploited for their bones, skin and other products[^7^].
Between 2 and 3.2 million exotic birds are illegally trafficked each year, with South America being the main source[^8^].
It is estimated that about 20% of reptiles sold as pets in Europe come from illegal trade[^9^].
More than 100 million sharks are caught and slaughtered annually, largely to meet the demand for shark fins in Asia[^10^].
Illegal trade in pangolins, the most trafficked mammals in the world, has led to an 80% decline in their populations in the last decade[^11^].
Corals, used in jewelry and decoration, are also illegally trafficked, with millions of pieces captured and sold each year[^12^].
Illegal animal trade is often linked to human exploitation, with poachers and traffickers taking advantage of vulnerable local populations for cheap labor[^13^].
It is estimated that about 75% of trafficked animals die before reaching their final destination, due to stress, disease or injuries sustained during transport[^14^].
Approximately 25% of all drugs on the black market are related to the trafficking of animal species[^15^].
Illegal trade in animal species also affects flora, with millions of plants illegally removed from their natural habitat for sale as ornaments or medicinal ingredients[^16^].
Trafficking of animal species can have a negative impact on tourism and the local economy, as the loss of biodiversity affects visitor attraction and the livelihoods of local communities[^17^].
Some invasive species, such as the Burmese python snake in Florida, have been introduced into new ecosystems due to the illegal animal trade, causing serious environmental and economic problems[^18^].
Illegal trade in animals can also pose a risk to food safety, as the sale of illegally harvested bushmeat can introduce diseases and contaminants into the food chain.
- Social media and e-commerce platforms have facilitated the illegal trade in animal species, allowing traffickers and buyers to connect and transact anonymously and on a large scale.
In conclusion, illegal trafficking of animal species is a global problem that affects biodiversity, ecosystem health and human welfare. To combat this problem, a multifaceted approach is needed, including international cooperation, effective law enforcement, public education and awareness, and support for conservation projects. Only through these combined efforts can we protect endangered species and preserve the biological richness of our planet for future generations.
- CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)
- The World Bank (2019). Wildlife Trafficking: Stealing Nature’s Wealth
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Wildlife and Forest Crime
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Great Elephant Census
- Save the Rhino International
- TRAFFIC – Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
- BirdLife International
- European Union Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking
- Shark Savers
- Pangolin Crisis Fund
- Coral Reef Alliance
- Freeland Foundation
- World Animal Protection
- INTERPOL – Wildlife Crime
- TRAFFIC – Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
- IUCN SSC Wildlife Trafficking Working Group