Wildlife smuggling

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For the legal trade of species, see Wildlife trade.

Wildlife smuggling or trafficking involves the illegal gathering, transportation, and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This can be done either internationally or domestically. Interpol estimates that wildlife smuggling transactions generate between 10–20 billion US dollars annually.[1][unreliable source?]

Products demanded by the trade include exotic pets, food, traditional medicine, clothing, and jewellery made from animals' tusks, fins, skins, shells, horns, and internal organs. Smuggled wildlife is an increasing global demand; it is estimated that the US, China, and the European Union are the places with the highest demand.


Demands are influenced by different lifestyles, cultures, and regions. In Asia, demands are for specific organs or body parts of animals, which are used in traditional medicine and to represent wealth. In many East Asian societies, specific animal parts are used for their assumed spiritual or healing properties. For example, some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that one will acquire the strength of a tiger by eating its flesh or drinking "tiger wine", which is made from tiger bones. Demand has increased in Southeast Asia due to the region's economic boom.

In many parts of Africa, the main demand for illegal wildlife comes from the consumption of bushmeat. Wild animals are a preferred as a source of protein and primates are considered a delicacy. It is believed that up to 40,000 monkeys are killed and eventually consumed each year in Africa alone via smuggling. Many primates are killed by bushmeat hunters, who supply to markets all over Africa, Europe, and the United States.

In Europe and North America and tourist souvenirs, or are kept as exotic pets.



In many developing countries, animal smuggling provides a stable source of income for hunters and traders. Many claim that many of these small-scale hunters and traders lack alternatives for generating sustainable incomes. Besides these, members of terrorist organizations also hunt wildlife, so as to fund their other (criminal) activities.[2] Wildlife smuggling persists on the black-market due to the low risk of prosecution and relaxed penalties.


The spread of animal-borne disease affects both human health as well as threatening indigenous wildlife and natural ecosystems. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, nearly 75% of emerging diseases that reach humans come from animals. However, the link between wildlife smuggling specifically and the rise in animal-borne disease is still questioned.

Diseases believe to have originated and spread by wildlife smuggling[edit]

  • SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is caused by a virus and infects both humans and wildlife. Experts suspect that the SARS virus originated in the China due to contact between a civets (wildcats common in Chinese trade) and humans.
  • Avian flu (H5N1) is caused by a highly pathogenic virus. It can infect humans through contact with infected wild birds, but can be transmitted by contact with poultry as well.
  • Monkeypox is an infectious disease found in Africa's wildlife that can spread to humans.


Wildlife smuggling directly affects the biodiversity of different ecosystems. Certain animals are in higher demand by smugglers, leading to a visible decline of these species in their native habitats. Wildlife smuggling may also cause the introduction of invasive and harmful species into an ecosystem, which can endanger indigenous wildlife.

International control measures[edit]

Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking[edit]

The Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) was established in 2005 by the U.S. State Department as a voluntary coalition of governments and organizations that aims to end the illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products. CAWT currently includes six governments and thirteen international NGOs. Their means of action include raising public awareness to curb demand, strengthening international cross-border law enforcements to limit supply, and endeavoring to mobilize political support from upper echelons.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wild Enforcement Network[edit]

The Freeland Foundation and TRAFFIC Southeast Asia worked with the Thai government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to establish the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) in 2005. ASEAN-WEN oversees cross-border cooperations and aims to strengthen the collective law enforcement capacity of the ten ASEAN member countries. It is the largest regional wildlife law enforcement collaboration in the world and receives support form the United States Agency for International Development.

South Asian Enforcement Network[edit]

The South Asian Enforcement Network (SAWEN) was created with the help of CAWT and TRAFFIC. In 2008, South Asian environment ministers agreed to create SAWEN under the support of the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme. The SAWEN countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species[edit]

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) directs its efforts at the supply side of wildlife smuggling. It aims to end wildlife smuggling and to ensure that international trade does not threaten endangered species.

Wildlife smuggling by country[edit]


International trade of Australia’s wildlife is regulated under Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The same act implements provisions of CITES and the UN Biodiversity Convention in relation to imports of threatened biodiversity and wildlife.


Latin America is particularly vulnerable to wildlife smuggling because of its immense biodiversity. Rare and colourful birds native to South America include the Scarlet Macaw, which is in high demand for wildlife smugglers. Most animals stolen in Latin America often end up in Europe, the United States, or Japan.

Ecuador is home to 1600 species of birds: more than the entire continental United States. Though there are laws against wildlife smuggling, the lack of resources causes conservation to be low in priority.

New Zealand[edit]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]