HomePOPULARIllegal Wildlife Trade: A Persistent Global Threat to Biodiversity

Illegal Wildlife Trade: A Persistent Global Threat to Biodiversity

The latest World Wildlife Crime Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveals the grim reality of illegal wildlife trade, affecting around 4,000 species of plants and animals worldwide. Despite international efforts over the past two decades, this illicit trade continues to pose severe threats to biodiversity, public health, and the global fight against climate change.

Impact on Species

The report, based on over 140,000 records of wildlife seizures from 162 countries between 2015 and 2021, highlights the varied victims of this trade. While there have been reductions in the trafficking of iconic species like rhinos and elephants, lesser-known species remain heavily targeted. Corals, for example, accounted for 16% of recorded seizures, while crocodiles and their relatives made up 9%. Elephants, although still targeted, saw a decline in their representation from 16% in 2005-2014 to 6%.

Role of Corruption and Technology

“Actual wildlife trafficking levels are of course far greater than the recorded seizures,” the report states, emphasizing that corruption and technology play significant roles in perpetuating this crime. Corruption weakens regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, while technology enhances traffickers’ ability to reach global markets. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated efforts to combat wildlife trafficking as much of the trade moved online.

Drivers of Illegal Wildlife Trade

The demand for exotic pets, fashion, traditional medicines, and even illegal drugs fuels the trade. For instance, the market for dazzling spiders and reptiles has grown, driven by the desire for rare pets. Similarly, some trafficked species are sought for their use in traditional medicine or for their unique attributes, such as the psychedelic toxins of certain toads.

Consequences for Ecosystems and Public Health

Wildlife trafficking exacerbates the risk of local or global extinctions, particularly for species like rare orchids, succulents, and reptiles that receive little public attention. This illegal trade also poses significant public health risks by facilitating the spread of new diseases. Moreover, it threatens ecosystems already stressed by pollution and climate change, further endangering livelihoods and driving vulnerable populations into illegal activities.

Encouragingly, targeted efforts have led to sustained declines in elephant and rhino poaching over the past decade, demonstrating that progress is possible. However, the report underscores the need for more research and monitoring to fully understand and combat illegal wildlife trade. It emphasizes the importance of involving local communities in conservation efforts, recognizing them as custodians of nature’s treasures.

UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly highlighted the multifaceted harm caused by wildlife crime, stating, “Wildlife crime inflicts untold harm upon nature, and it also jeopardizes livelihoods, public health, good governance, and our planet’s ability to fight climate change.” The report calls for increased awareness, partnership with local communities, and protection of their interests to effectively tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

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