Wildlife smuggling or trafficking involves the illegal gathering, transportation, and distribution of animals and their derivatives. This can be done either internationally or domestically. Estimates of the money generated by wildlife smuggling vary, in part because of its illegal nature. Wildlife smuggling is estimated at $7.8bn to $10bn a year, but the illegal nature of such activities make determining the amount of money involved incredibly difficult. When considered with illegal timber and fisheries, wildlife trafficking is a major illegal trade along with narcotics, human trafficking, and counterfeit products.
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.
At the core of the illegal wildlife trafficking is a strong and rapidly expanding demand for a variety of products around the world: bushmeat; ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine; exotic pets; jewelry, trinkets, and accessories such as chess sets; furs for uses ranging from coats to traditional costumes; and trophies. With the exception of bushmeat, which is used as a primary source of protein by some cultures, all of these uses of illegally obtained wildlife are trophies, driven by a desire to be seen as more affluent, adventurous, or successful than others.
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.
Members of terrorist organizations and criminal organizations illicitly traffic in hundreds of millions of plants and animals to fund buy weapons, finance civil conflicts, and launder money from illicit sources. These often transnational efforts require a funding and a network of poachers, processors, smugglers, sellers, and buyers. Well armed, highly organized poaching activities, such as the murderous 2012 attacks in Chad and the Republic of Congo, have captured headlines The appeal, in part, is the low risk of detection and punishment compared to drug trafficking. In addition, trafficking can reap significant profits for those leading such efforts. For example, a single Ploughshare tortoise from Magagascar (there are only 400 estimated left in the wild) can fetch US$24,000.
Elephant ivory, a commonly trafficked contraband, can sell for little in the source country and can fetch high prices in destination countries. Prices depend greatly on the source country and the product. Ivory prices and demand have skyrocketed, making it a growing, lucrative market. Globally, illegal ivory trade activity in 2014 is more than double what it was in 2007. China is the largest importer of illegal ivory; the United States is second. Wildlife smuggling presents an economic cost to the countries where it occurs, including lost tourism and development opportunities.
Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking
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
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.
Wildlife smuggling by country
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 vulnerable to wildlife smuggling because of its biodiversity. Ecuador is known for its biodiversity. In norther Ecuador, the Yasuní National Park and the surrounding Waorani Ethnic Reserve, which cover about 1,770 square miles, are home to around 4,000 species of plants; numerous animals, including the giant river otter; more than 400 fish species; and more than 500 species of birds. As a comparison, the United States is home to 900 species of birds. Commonly smuggled birds include the scarlet macaw; this colorful bird, with bright red, brilliant blue, yellow, and white feathers, is in high demand as a pet. Animals stolen in Latin America often end up in Europe, the United States, or Japan. Though there are laws against wildlife smuggling, the lack of resources causes conservation to be low in priority.