Wildlife trafficking is (and almost always has been) a huge problem in the world. Wildlife trade is the legal sale/transfer of wildlife and wildlife products, but trafficking is illegal — it involves endangered species, banned practices, or unsustainable take of wildlife. TRAFFIC (Wildlife trade monitoring network) is an organization that studies and attempts to keep track of trade and traffic patterns. Trade and trafficking, according to TRAFFIC, happens for: food, fuel, fodder, building materials, clothing and ornaments, sport, healthcare, religion, and collections. For full descriptions, visit the TRAFFIC website, but it is important to understand how many uses wildlife and wildlife materials are traded for to understand the scope of the situation. TRAFFIC estimates that the value of all wildlife imports in 2009 was over $323 billion.
The statistics of wildlife trade are astounding. Timber and seafood make up the largest portion, with nearly $100 billion in fish and $200 billion in timber, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. CITES monitors all legal trade of animals involved in conservation issues and recorded
more than 317,000 live birds, just over 2 million live reptiles, 2.5 million crocodilian skins, 1.5 million lizard skins, 2.1 million snake skins, 73 tonnes of caviar, 1.1 million coral pieces and nearly 20,000 hunting trophies.
Additionally, EU enforcement seized over 12,000 illegal wildlife products between 2005 and 2009.
China is a major country of import for legal and illegal wildlife trade. As the graph above depicts, traditional Chinese medicine has a significant market for wildlife products (shark fins for soup, even though these numbers are declining, as well as tiger products and rhino horn).
The numbers can fluctuate from year to year, but generally trends are still increasing. With the world population reaching and surpassing seven billion, wildlife demand is increasing and more and more wildlife is endangered by this process. TRAFFIC cites that:
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, or log in protected areas; illegal trade undermines nations’ efforts to manage their natural resources sustainably and causes massive economic losses in lost earnings. It is often said that illegal wildlife trade is the third most valuable illicit commerce behind drugs and arms
This issue will be large and hard to tackle until we decide on a definitive direction for our research. The issue of wildlife trade/trafficking is a large theme with dozens of possible directions.