Sunda Pangolins (Manis javanica) for sale at a wildlife trade market.
CI/Photo by Erwin Sopya
Think twice about that overpriced snakeskin wallet and your neighbor’s pet cockatoo. Increasing demand for plants and animals for food, clothing, pets, souvenirs, and medicine is causing localized extinctions and emptying ecosystems worldwide.
Driven by consumer giants like the United States and China, today’s annual wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar enterprise – much of it illegal. Poaching of threatened terrestrial and marine species is particularly acute in Southeast Asia, where human population has grown by more than 300 percent in the last 50 years and individual purchasing power is increasing at an unprecedented rate.
COUNTRY PROFILE: Learn more about illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia.
Unregulated hunting and trading in biodiversity-rich countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmar, now joins habitat loss and climate change as primary causes of species decline. At greatest risk are species that are slow to reproduce, such as elephants and sharks, animals with restricted ranges like many primates and turtles, and those that are of particularly high trade value, including rhinoceroses and Asian big cats.
Beyond extinctions and biodiversity loss, recent epidemics caused by wildlife-to-human contact – such as avian influenza (bird flu), Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – underscore the public health implications of unregulated trade.
ARTICLE: Read a first-person account of a visit to a Bushmeat market.
CI is partnering with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and local communities throughout East and Southeast Asia to address the factors allowing illegal trade of threatened species to continue. Together, we are:
- training forest guards and law enforcement officials to apprehend and convict poachers
- raising awareness of prosecutors and judges to increase convictions of wildlife criminals
- instructing airline workers on how to identify and report suspicious cargo
- conducting public awareness campaigns with the Beijing Olympic Committee and other partners in China to reduce the demand for, and consumption of, threatened wildlife
- exploring viable and sustainable wildlife harvesting alternatives with local communities.
Species especially impacted by illegal wildlife trade include:
People are eating sharks far more than sharks are eating people. The demand for shark fin soup has driven 20 percent of all sharks and their closest relatives nearly to extinction.
Wanted more dead than alive – crocodiles' safety will remain precarious until laws to protect them are better enforced.
The tiger is the world’s largest living cat and among the world's most highly threatened animals. Around 2,500 tigers exist in the wild today, down from 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century.
The world’s kitchens serve up turtles every which way. In China, the specialty is turtle soup. With a seemingly insatiable appetite for these reptiles, diners in Asia are practically eating freshwater turtles to extinction.