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The international trade in wildlife is a serious conservation problem. Globally, illegal wildlife trade is said to be the second largest illegal trade in volume, second to narcotics and followed by arms and ammunition but there is no hard data supporting this claim and recently the CITES Secretariat has disavowed this statistic. Still, it's a serious threat to a number of endangered and vulnerable species. Not all of the wildlife trade is illegal: some of it is entirely legitimate, though it can put 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. Items may be traded live or dead.
The international illegal wildlife trade is sometimes differentiated from bushmeat trade by virtue of its geographic scale and commercialization. Bushmeat, usually but not always referring to Africa, is the consumption of wildlife locally or nationally for protein. Sometimes bushmeat is internationalized through trade links from Africa to Europe or North America, but most bushmeat is consumed near its place of origin. The international illegal trade of wildlife, conversely, is defined by the trade of high-value wild animals and products derived from wild animals across borders.
The international trade in wildlife is addressed by the United Nations' Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which currently has 170 member countries or Parties. The XV Conference of the Parties of CITES is scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar in June 2009.
Illegal wildlife trade
Interpol has estimated the extent of the illegal wildlife trade between $10 billion and $20 billion per year. While the trade is a global one, with routes extending to every continent, conservationists say the problem is most acute in Southeast Asia. There, trade linkages to key markets in China, the United States, and the European Union; lax law enforcement; weak border controls; and the perception of high profit and low risk contribute to large-scale commercial wildlife trafficking. The ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and outside funders, is one response to the region's illegal wildlife trade networks.
Notable trade hubs of the wildlife trade include Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, which offers smugglers direct jet service to Europe, the Middle East, North America and Africa. The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is a known center of illicit wildlife trade, and the sale of lizards, primates, and other endangered species has been widely documented. Trade routes connecting in Southeast Asia link Madagascar to the United States (for the sale of turtles, lemurs, and other primates), Cambodia to Japan (for the sale of slow lorises as pets), and the sale of many species to China.
Despite international and local laws designed to crack down on the trade, live animals and animal parts — often those of endangered or threatened species - are sold in open-air markets throughout Asia. The animals involved in the trade end up as trophies, or in specialty restaurants. Some are used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Despite the name, elements of TCM are widely adopted throughout East and Southeast Asia, among both Chinese and non-Chinese communities.
The trade also includes demand for exotic pets, and consumption of wildlife for meat. Large volumes of fresh water tortoises and turtles, snakes, pangolins and monitor lizards are consumed as meat in Asia, including in specialty restaurants that feature wildlife as gourmet dining.
Wildlife trade in South America
Although the volume of animals traded may be greater in Southeast Asia, animal trading in Latin America is widespread as well.
In open air Amazon markets in Iquitos and Manaus, a variety of rainforest animals are sold openly as meat, such as agoutis, peccaries, turtles, turtle eggs, walking catfish, etc. In addition, many species are sold as pets. The keeping of parrots and monkeys as pets by villagers along the Amazon is commonplace. But the sale of these "companion" animals in open markets is rampant. Capturing the baby tamarins, marmosets, spider monkeys, saki monkeys, etc., in order to sell them, often requires shooting the mother primate out of a treetop with her clinging child; the youngster may or may not survive the fall. With the human population increasing, such practices have a serious impact on the future prospects for many threatened species. The United States is a popular destination for Amazonian rainforest animals. They are smuggled across borders the same way illegal drugs are - in the trunks of cars, in suitcases, in crates disguised as something else.
Organizations addressing illegal wildlife trade
- ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)
- Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory
- FREELAND Foundation
- Species Survival Network
- TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network
- Wildlife Alliance
- Roe, D. (2002). Making a Killing Or Making a Living: Wildlife Trade, Trade Controls, and Rural Livelihoods. IIED. ISBN 978-1-84369-215-7.
- TRAFFIC − international NGO dedicated to ensuring that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to nature conservation
- ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network − wildlife law enforcement network
- FREELAND Foundation − international NGO dedicated to ending the illegal wildlife trade, conserving natural habitats and protecting human rights
- Wildlife Alliance − international NGO addressing wildlife trafficking and other crimes against nature
- Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
- EIA in the USA
- The Species Survival Network − international coalition of over 80 NGOs committed to the promotion, enhancement, and strict enforcement of CITES
- Wildlife at Risk − combating the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam
- Saving Vietnam's Wildlife