Trafficking in Wildlife

Organized criminal groups have become deeply involved in illicit trafficking of wildlife, precious stones and minerals, human organs and other contraband. This black market trade provides a source of profit in addition to the narcotrafficking and weapons trades.
WRITER-ID | 1 January 2010

Global-Regional Concern:

Trafficking in wildlife ranks as the world’s third largest illicit trading activity after drugs and arms dealing. Global animal trafficking is worth an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion each year. Some criminal groups have moved from trafficking drugs to wildlife because the penalties are lower, the risk of getting caught is lower and the profit margins are just as high, the United Nations reported.

Once a successful pipeline has been established for smuggling wildlife, the crime networks will use it to smuggle drugs, illegal weapons, people and other contraband, according to

Trafficking Corridor:

The jungles of Central and South America provide the majority of wildlife shipped overseas to Europe, the U.S. and Asia, Voice of America News reported. China and the U.S. lead the demand for endangered wildlife contraband. About 15 percent of the world’s illegal trafficking occurs in Brazil, according to the National Network to Fight Wild Animal Trafficking. In March 2009, federal police in Rio de Janeiro broke up an illegal wildlife smuggling ring responsible for trafficking 500,000 animals worth an estimated $9 million.

Criminal Method:

The clandestine methods used to transport animals while evading customs agents often result in the death of the animals. More than 80 percent die in transit due to inhumane smuggling conditions, according to Merazonia, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in Ecuador. Animals’ mouths and beaks are taped shut, and the animals often are contained in overcrowded and infested cages. The eyes of birds may be perforated to keep them from singing in reaction to light. Parrots and monkeys are often drugged and stuffed into suitcases for air travel.

Dead or alive, smuggled animals may transmit diseases such as avian influenza or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Taking Action:

To build Brazil’s capacity to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, government ministers have said that trade legislation will be improved and the number of inspectors will grow.

In 2007, the U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted a resolution for international cooperation in preventing and combating wildlife trafficking.

In recent years, the United States has helped support three international conservation programs, the U.S. State Department reported in February 2009. The programs, which help countries combat illegal wildlife trafficking, are the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network.

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