Illegal wildlife trade

Wildlife trafficking - the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products - is a soaring black market worth an estimated $10 billion a year.

Part of an August 2007 seizure of illegal wildlife products in Russia of 480 bear paws, a Siberian tiger pelt and bones, and 20 kg of wild ginseng, all destined for China. The smuggling gang involved received jail sentences of up to 8 years © Pavel Fomenko / WWF

A Global Concern
Unchecked demand for exotic pets, rare foods, trophies and traditional medicines is driving many species to the brink of extinction, threatening efforts to meet the global 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss, and contributing to the spread to humans of virulent wildlife diseases, such as SARS, avian influenza and the Ebola virus. The illegal wildlife trade is often linked to organized crime and involves many of the same culprits and smuggling routes as trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons.

Statistics
Attempts have been made by several international organizations, including Interpol and WWF, to define the scale of the international illegal wildlife trade. However, there are many difficulties with this task and the resulting estimates cover an extremely broad range from 25%-70% of the legal trade.

TRAFFIC International (a joint programme of WWF and IUCN which monitors the trade in wildlife) have suggested that the value of the illegal trade based on declared import figures from the early 1990s (excluding timber and fisheries) could range from £2.25 billion to £6.3 billion.

However, the covert nature of smuggling and difficulties in detecting illegal shipments mean it is not possible to provide a reliable estimate of the scale of these illegal activities with some estimates as high as US$10 billion or more.