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Illegal Wildlife Trade Threatens Global Biodiversity

by Violet Dawson
0 comment

Wildlife trafficking poses a direct threat to the wildlife population

A new report by the UN Crime and Drugs Prevention Office, UNODC says that despite the worldwide efforts for two decades, more than 4000 precious wildlife species still fall prey to trafficking every year. This goes on, in about 162 countries who have active illegal wildlife trading. 

Over the reporting period, law enforcement bodies confiscated 13 million items totalling more than 16.000 tonnes. Despite significant efforts and close watch, the extinction of numerous rare species such as orchids, succulents, reptiles, fishes, birds, and mammals, wildlife trafficking often goes unnoticed by the public. This causes ‘untold harm upon nature’, a UN report has warned. 

This illegal collection of wildlife for trade has led to the recent extinction of several succulent plant species in South Africa. With newly discovered species quickly targeted by poachers and buyers, it has also caused a substantial depletion of rare orchids.

Crime is driven by illegal trade of these 4000 plants and animals for the demand of medicine, food, pets, bushmeat, trophies and ornamental purposes.  

A report says, shark fins, eels and pangolins are often traded in bulk for consumption as food. While the rare reptiles, parrots, iguanas and amphibians are in huge demand as pets. The ivory from elephant tusks and the horns of rhinoceroses are in demand as ornamental goods and many parts of such species as well as orchids. Furthermore, body parts and bones are used in medicines of many animals such as pangolins, seahorses and big cats. 

Previous research has found that certain populations of spider monkey and Baird’s tapir have declined by 99.9% owing to the illegal trade. These local disappearances could lead to global extinctions. 

About 40% of the captured animals, reptiles, birds and amphibians are on the red list and are considered and classified as near threatened or threatened species. Wildlife trafficking poses a direct threat to the wildlife population. It hampers the ecosystem and makes it difficult to help with climate change. Wildlife smuggling interferes with the sensitive ecosystem’s ability to function in its natural state. 

“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,” said Ghada Waly, the executive director of the UNODC.

Researchers saw almost 140,000 seizures between 2015 and 2021. This prompted a review of the trade’s effects, patterns, and motivators. The majority of individual seizures involved corals, huge reptiles including crocodiles, and elephants.

With seizures representing a small fraction of overall crime, the trade is active in more than 80% of the countries as per a report from the UN office on Drugs and Crime (ONODC). It states, “Despite gaps in knowledge about the full extent of wildlife trafficking and associated crime, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that this remains a significant global problem far from being resolved.”

The trafficking reveals the involvement of powerful organized crime groups that exploit fragile ecosystems worldwide, from Amazon to the Golden Triangle. The transnational criminal networks engage in various stages of the trade chain, which includes, importing, exporting, brokerage, storage, breeding and selling to the customers. 

From bribes paid to inspectors and government officials allowing fake permits, corruption plays a critical role in undermining efforts to stop wildlife trafficking.

The number of wildlife trafficking has been excessively increasing in the past two decades, but a decline has been seen during 2020 and 2021. Safeguarding the wildlife could be due to a range of factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, a genuine reduction in trafficking, less enforcement or shifts in the methods of the trade which makes it harder to detect. 

With more than 100 million plants and animals smuggled annually, the illegal wildlife trade could amount to $23 billion a year. A study published in 2019 found 24% of the world’s known land-based vertebrates were included in the wildlife trade. 

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