The business of illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be $20 billion. It is a business not just reserved for wild animals but also includes exotic woods and endangered marine life. Its commodities come in many forms, from skins and animal parts to food, medicine, pets, and souvenirs. Whatever form it takes, the illegal trafficking of wildlife has propelled many species on the endangered list faster toward extinction.
Endangered species bring the highest value to those who trade in illegal wildlife. Because the supply is limited in the dwindling populations of endangered animals and plants, they bring premium profits for traders. As more and more of these species are taken out of the environment, it becomes increasingly more difficult to replenish their population to keep up with the demand. Conservationists believe that eventually the odds are that the supply will run out, pushing the last remaining members of the species to be lost forever, faster than expected.
For the world’s endangered species, the destruction of their habitat is their largest threat, but illegal trafficking of wildlife is catching up. Poaching rhinos in South Africa increased by 5,000 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory happened in 2011, representing 2,500 elephants killed.
Yet, species not yet on the IUCN Red List are at risk as well. Every year there are tens of thousands of plant and animal species taken from the wild and sold for legitimate purposes, such as for food, as ornamental plants, or for medicine. The dangers to these species are the same as for the endangered ones since wildlife trade is unsustainable and could decrease populations causing threatened levels. Whether it is for legitimate purposes or not, trafficking wildlife is illegal and whether the species is endangered or not the consequences could mean extinction for both by the rate they are propelled, conservationists may not be able to reverse.
Recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry formed the conservation group, United for Wildlife, an unprecedented partnership between the world’s top conservation organizations. One of the first missions of the alliance is to make a concerted effort to reduce illegal wildlife trafficking by protecting the supply and curbing demand. On its official website, it states that, “Our natural heritage faces many threats, but none more pressing that that of the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.”
United for Wildlife partners include Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund-UK, Fauna & Flora International, International Union for Conservation of Nature, The Nature Conservancy, the Zoological Society of London, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Royal Foundation.
Efforts to monitor the activities of illegal wildlife traders are at the forefront of the United for Wildlife agenda. The organization is waiting for a report from TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, which is working in conjunction with the IUNC and the WWF. The Species Survival Commission of the IUNC will provide the report with information on the most traded species. Simon Stuart, the chairperson of the IUN’s Species Survival Commission stated that, “Wildlife trafficking has a serious economic, political, and ecological ramifications.”
Prince William has stated, “The root of the illegal wildlife trade is the demand for products that require the death of tens of thousands of animals every year,” and by this kind of trafficking, they will be propelled into an early extinction.
By: Lisa Nance