Illicit Wildlife Trade. A Global Review

Academic Paper 2017 21 Pages

Business economics - Trade and Distribution


Table of Content

1.2 The Extent of the Illegal Trade
1.3 The Activities
1.4 Economic Value of Illegal Wildlife Trade

2.1 Overview of Illicit Trade in Wildlife
2.2 Regional overviews
2.3 Major Illegal Wildlife Products and Markets
2.3.1 Rhino horn
2.3.2 IVORY

3.1 Causes of Illicit Wildlife Trade
3.2 The Contributing Factors
3.3 Implications of Illicit Wildlife Trade
3.3.1 Implications for Natural Wealth, Environment and Biodiversity
3.3.2 Implications for Global Health
3.3.3 Implications for Social and Economic Development
3.3.4 Implications for National and International Security

4.1 Efforts Made To Tackle Illegal Wildlife Trade
4.1.1 Combating the Illegal Trade in African Elephant Ivory with DNA Forensics
4.1.2 Global Efforts to Stop Illicit Wildlife Trade
4.2 Ongoing Efforts to Stop Illicit Wildlife Trade.
4.2.1 Law Enforcement Training On Ivory Seizures in East Africa
4.2.2. Mobile Tiger Patrols in Sumatra, Indonesia
4.3. Way Out Of Illicit Wildlife Trade
4.3.1 Awareness and Education
4.3.2. Enforcement





Illicit Wildlife Trade refers to the commerce of products that are derived from non-domesticated animals or plants usually extracted from their natural environment or raised under control conditions.

“lllicit wildlife trafficking” describes any environment-related crime that involves the illegal trade, smuggling, poaching, capture or collection of endangered species, protected wildlife (including animals and plants that are subject to harvest quotas and regulated by permits), derivatives or products thereof. (South, N. and Wyatt, T. 2011)

Poaching has traditionally been defined as the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals, usually associated with land use rights. And Game cropping is defined as the taking of animals from a wild herd in numbers that will not endanger the viability of the wild population

1.2 The Extent of the Illegal Trade

Most of the trade in wildlife is legal and provides much-needed revenue to range areas or source countries, many of which are located in developing countries or countries with economies in transition. However, according to Zimmerman (2003), “The black market in illegal wildlife is now the second largest in the world—ranking only behind the trade in illegal drugs.” Therefore, the illegal trade, according to Cook et al. (2002), not only threatens survival and conservation of endangered species but also offers high rewards and low risks to those involved.

Although is it obvious that no standardized formula exists to calculate the costs of legal or illegal revenues, three additional things are evident. First, loss of wildlife extends well beyond monetary values; for example, the depletion of rainforests is said to contribute to global climate changes in addition to the destruction of natural habitats that sustain plants, animals, and humans. Second, the trade in endangered species, if it is truly second only to that of illegal drugs trafficking, must be extremely lucrative— presenting traders with opportunities to earn vast amounts of money while remaining relatively invisible to authorities. Third, the limitations placed on the legal wildlife markets provide a fertile environment for illegal markets to develop and thrive. Illegal markets, as with any strongly demanded commodity, will bypass legal trade regulations, such as quotas, permits, and documentations required, for example, by CITES signatory countries (Zimmerman 2003). An item included on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species might well increase the desirability of the item among certain collectors. The greater the scarcity of the plant or animal, the greater the desirability as well as the costs in terms of acquisition from the wild, preparation of goods for processing, and subsequently, transportation to final consumer destinations. The amount of effort it takes to obtain the item coupled with the level of protection levied at it will no doubt be reflected in the final price. (Jacqueline 2008)

1.3 The Activities

According to Cook et al. (2002), there are five distinct types of illegal activities with regard to the trade in flora and fauna. These include the illegal timber trade; caviar trafficking; activities related to drug trafficking; skins, furs, and traditional Asian medicines (TAM); and specialist specimen collection. Each of these activities are said to have their own highly organized methods, markets, and trade routes.

According to Cowdrey (2002), items or goods flow from range or source areas, which are countries or regions of natural habitat, through to consumer areas, oftentimes using intermediate destinations. These serve several important functions. They act as a funnel for long-haul trips where items are packed in bulk. Intermediate destinations can serve as a stopover place where shipments or modes of transportation can be switched. The port can function as a processing area where items are altered from their raw form to a finished product; for example, elephant tusks can be carved into a variety of smaller ivory items, which would be much more difficult to detect.

1.4 Economic Value of Illegal Wildlife Trade

The illegal trade of animals or animal parts has become one of the most lucrative black market activities in the world. Driven by the promise of high profit margins, poachers in Africa – namely militias, armed groups, and insurgent groups – have driven rhinos and elephants close to extinction, while murdering hundreds of park rangers in the process. (David .S, 2013)

There are many different estimates of the financial value of illicit wildlife trafficking worldwide, however, reliable estimates are hard to find, mainly because the trade is illegal. Unreported and unregulated fisheries trade alone has been estimated at between US$4.2 billion and US$9.5 billion per year, the value of the illegal timber trade as much as US$7 billion per year, and the illicit wildlife trafficking (excluding fisheries and timber) as between US$7.8 billion and US$10 billion per year.( Myburgh and Haken, 2011). Combining these numbers, illicit wildlife trafficking (including timber and fisheries) comprises the fourth largest global illegal trade after narcotics, humans and counterfeit products.(Anon)

The direct consequences of China’s ivory obsession are proving deadly for African elephants. In Southern Sudan, the elephant population has fallen from an estimated 130,000 in 1986, to 5,000 today. Tanzania had around 80,000 elephants in 2009, but 10,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered. More than a third of all elephant tusks seized by law enforcement last year came from Tanzania, with neighbouring Kenya a close second. (David .S, 2013)

Illicit wildlife trafficking has increased over the last few years despite the combined efforts of the international community, governments and civil society. The trend is confirmed by some of the most recent events relating to wildlife trafficking. For example, 2011 was the highest year on record for elephant poaching; the theft of rhinoceros horns from museums, auction houses and antique shops has increased in the European Union; ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 tonnes – a figure that represents 2,500 elephants – was confiscated in 17 large-scale (>800 kg) seizures of illegal ivory in 2011; and the illegal poaching of rhinos in South Africa surged to a record high in 2011, with a final death toll of 448. WWF has confirmed that between 2007 and 2011 the numbers of rhinos poached in South Africa increased by 3,000 per cent.

Calculating the costs of the illegal trade is fraught with difficulty, but as a way to illustrate both the scale of the problem and the frailty of the data, existing figures are reported here. Cook et al. (2002) estimated US$159 billion annual trade based on declared import values of wildlife commodities. The Metropolitan Police (United Kingdom) estimate that 350 million animals and plants are traded every year, with a market value of US$25 billion, of which one quarter is from illegal trading. Another estimate puts the illegal, international trade of environmentally sensitive material, which includes wildlife and ozone-depleting substances, at nearly US$8 billion (Rubin & Stucky, 2004). Cowdrey (2002) estimates that US$25 million worth of caviar left the United Arab Emirates (UAE) illegally for destinations in the United States and United Kingdom.


2.1 Overview of Illicit Trade in Wildlife

The worldwide illicit trade in wildlife is valued at approximately $19 billion each year, which is more than the value of the illegal markets for oil, art, gold, human organs, small arms, and diamonds (Anon, 2013a). Data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the main international convention regulating trade in wildlife, indicates that poaching of both elephants and rhinoceros have increased in recent years. There were at least 22,000 elephants killed for their tusks worldwide in 2012 and approximately 20,000 in 2013 (Carrington and Damian, 2014). Poaching of elephants has escalated again with an estimated loss of 30,000 in 2014 (Anderson et al, 2014). Ninety-five percent of the elephant population has been killed during the last 100 years. Rhino poaching was kept relatively under control until an explosion in incidents in 2008. By 2013, 1,004 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone. The cause of this increase seems to stem from the globally soaring prices for the horn. The escalation in price for rhino horn has been more severe than for ivory. The cost of rhino horn in the 1990s is estimated at $800 per kilogram; today it is approximately $65,000 per kilogram - prices which exceed the value of gold, cocaine, and heroin in some countries. (Anderson et al, 2014)

2.2 Regional overviews


Africa is the centre for poaching elephants and rhinoceros. In North Africa, militants in Sudan regularly work to poach for ivory.

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Figure 1: Confiscated Ivory from traffickers

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The national park of Garamba, which is located on the Sudanese border, sees rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) track and poach elephants with grenades from rocket-propelled launchers. (Cardamone and Tom, 2012)

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Figure 2: Burning of Seized Ivory In Kenya

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The Janjaweed, also a Sudanese militia active in Darfur, are known to traffic ivory for profit in Chad and Kenya. (Begley, S. 2008.) Ivory and rhino horn trade in this region is largely fuelled by monetary incentives. Poachers live and work in areas of extreme poverty and trafficking these wildlife products provides an economic opportunity.

In East Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda account for 80 percent of the major African seizures of ivory in 2013 (Carrington and Damian, 2014). Kenya has one of the largest African tourism industries supported largely by safaris and game reserves. Both ivory and rhino horn poaching threaten this $1 billion a year industry, as visitors encounter fewer animals and more criminality in game parks and reserves (Anderson et al, 2014). Poaching in Kenya is all too common, in part due to al-Shabaab of neighbouring Somalia encouraging local villagers to poach ivory and subsequently smuggling ivory and rhino horn out of ports in Somalia (Anderson et al, 2014). The town of Isiolo is a key transport hub which sees Somali militants, poachers, smugglers, and long-haul truck drivers pass through with the illicit goods (Johnson and Glen, 2013). Likewise, the port of Mombasa in southeast Kenya is emerging as another key transit hub in the region. It ships thousands of containers per day, and is a significant transit point in supplying the global ivory market as well as illegal drugs bound for Europe (Johnson and Glen, 2013). Mombasa, along with Dar el Salaam in Tanzania are the two largest exit ports for illicit ivory (Awiti and Alex O. 2014) Further south, South Africa is the main location for the poaching of rhinoceros for horn though areas in East Africa with black rhino populations are also targeted.

Zimbabwe has laws against poaching but not trafficking which enables the brokers and criminals who facilitate the movement across borders (Anderson et al, 2014). Poachers in Zimbabwe in 2013 poisoned close to 90 elephants for their ivory with cyanide-laced salt licks (Smith-Spark et al, 2013). Many in Zimbabwe, including the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, an anti-poaching organization, call for tougher treatment of those convicted of poaching to set a serious example and prevent would-be future poachers (Smith-Spark et al, 2013).


The illegal trade in wildlife in Asia is estimated to be approximately $2.5 billion a year with the greatest part of the illicit market coming from elephant ivory – valued at $200 million a year (Anon, 2013b). It is known for being a transhipment point for illegal wildlife with hubs in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam (Anon 2013b) as well as Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan (Awiti and Alex O. 2014). China is the region’s largest consumer of illegal wildlife products, which are generally used for medicinal or nutritional purposes. Additionally, wildlife products are often consumed for social reasons, as their high price connotes a higher social status. China is the greatest consumer of elephant ivory in the region. Chinese nationals dominate the ivory trade. (Anon, 2013b)

The second largest part of the illicit market in wildlife in Asia is for pangolins, the market for which is valued at almost $150 million each year. They are the most trafficked animal in the world (Foley and James, 2014).

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Figure 3: Seized Pangolins

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Pangolins are consumed as a luxury meat as well as having their scales used as ingredients of traditional medicine. The greatest demand for pangolin is in China, and the increasing rarity of pangolins in Asia has led to greater trafficking in pangolins from Africa. (Anon 2013b). In 2013 alone, it is estimated that 40,625 to 81,250 pangolins were killed. (Cota-Larson and Rhishja. 2014). At this rate, all eight species of pangolins are facing extinction. (Anon 2014a)

The third largest illegal wildlife product market in Asia is for rhino horn, which is valued at more than $25 million each year (Anon 2013b). Vietnam is the greatest consumer of rhino horn in both the region and the world, where a kilogram of rhino is worth the same amount as a kilogram of gold (Anon, 2013b). Vietnamese and Thai nationals are involved in the rhino horn trafficking from Africa to Asia. (Anon 2013b)


Europe is one of the main destinations for trafficked wildlife behind the United States and China. (Anon 2013a) European criminal organizations are active in illegal trading of rhino horn. Ethnically Irish groups have been identified (Rathkeale Rovers) as players in this arena and target antique dealers, auction houses, art galleries and museums as well as private collections and zoos. Rhino horn can be worth between 25,000 and 200,000 euros. (Anon. 2011) Rhinoceros poaching has increased in South Africa selling at 40,000 euro per kilogram in 2014,(Anon 2014b) with horns trafficked throughout Europe, centring on Ireland, the UK, and France.

2.3 Major Illegal Wildlife Products and Markets

2.3.1 Rhino horn

The groups involved in trafficking rhino horn are geographically and organizationally diverse. They also engage with smuggling of the horn at different stages of the trafficking chain. In Africa, al-Shabaab facilitates some movement of rhino horn out of Somali ports. In South Asia, there are reports that Islamic militants based in Bangladesh and affiliated with al-Qaida, including Harakat ul-Jihad-Islami-Bangladesh (HUJI-B) and Jamaat-ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) are suspected of sponsoring the poaching of both rhinoceroses and elephants to support terrorist activities (Anon 2013a). Domestic separatist groups and tribal militant groups (Karbi) in India may likely be involved in rhino poaching in the Kaziranga National Park (Anon 2013a). In Europe, the Irish criminal organization - Rathkeale Rovers - steals from national museums and traffics already stolen rhino horns, rather than actually poaching. The group is based on an extensive network of Traveller families.(O'Keeffe and cormac 2014)


In 2013, 201 rhinos were poached in Kruger National Park alone, one of the largest game reserves in Africa. In 2013, Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park reported that the country’s last 15 rhinos had been killed by poachers who were colluding with the park rangers responsible for protecting them.(Anon, 2013a) Kaziranga National Park in India is home to two-thirds of the Asian rhinoceros population, the largest population of tigers and also a large Asian elephant population. (Levy et al, 2007) It is a site for poaching in the region.

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Figure 4: Chart of South Africa Rhino Poaching From 2007 - 2015

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The highest demand for rhino horn comes from Asia, particularly China, Vietnam and India. In parts of these cultures, it is believed that consumption of rhino horn is a cure for cancer and other illnesses. In Vietnam specifically, the horn is used as if it were a recreational drug referred to as “rhino wine” to improve male sexual performance(Anon, 2013a) and in other instances as a cure for hangovers.(Abraham and Curtis, 2014) The horn has probably either been poached in Africa or taken from an older specimen quite possibly from Europe. The Rathkeale Rovers alone have been directly involved in over 60 documented thefts, worth more than a combined estimate of 40 million euros. (O'Keeffe and cormac, 2014)



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Title: Illicit Wildlife Trade. A Global Review