Why we're tackling the illegal wildlife trade
Stopping the illegal wildlife trade is one of the most important and urgent parts of our work to protect iconic and threatened wildlife.
There's been an unprecedented growth in illegal wildlife trade across the world in recent years, which is threatening to overturn decades of conservation successes. Especially for iconic animals like rhinos, elephants and tigers.
The numbers are horrific: Around 20,000 African elephants killed by poachers each year. And a 8,900% increase in rhino poaching in South Africa since 2007.
But it’s not just an issue that affects wildlife. The illegal wildlife trade is a huge international organised crime – the fourth biggest illegal trade in the world, worth over an estimated £15 billion annually. It’s often run by ruthless crime syndicates, involved in other organised crimes and corruption, and it threatens the people who live and work alongside the wildlife being targeted. It also affects the economic development of some of the world's poorest countries.
Wildlife trade – legal versus illegal
The term ‘wildlife trade’ actually refers to a mostly legal practice. It covers a wide spectrum of everyday trading activities and products. For instance, it includes: wood used for furniture or building materials; exotic flowers, plants or pets; ‘wild’ ingredients sourced for food, medicines and cosmetics; clothes or bags made from, for example, reptile skins.
Wildlife trade only becomes a problem, and a big concern to us at WWF, when the trade becomes unsustainable and/or illegal, and puts the future survival of specific species at risk. In particular, WWF is concerned that legal domestic elephant ivory markets are being used to launder illegal ivory and drive the poaching of elephants. We are calling for the urgent closure of domestic ivory markets worldwide, including a ban on the elephant ivory trade in the UK.
We work closely with TRAFFIC, a joint programme of WWF and the IUCN that monitors the global wildlife trade, to tackle poaching and smuggling of illegal items of key species, in key parts of the world.