Wildlife Trafficking Persists Despite Pandemic Disruptions

A new UNODC report reveals that over 4,000 plant and animal species are still being illegally traded every year, with 13 million items seized across 162 countries from 2015 to 2021. The illegal trade threatens biodiversity, ecosystems, and public health, with powerful organized crime groups and corruption exacerbating the problem.

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Trim Correspondents
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Wildlife Trafficking Persists Despite Pandemic Disruptions

Wildlife Trafficking Persists Despite Pandemic Disruptions

Wildlife trafficking remains a significant global threat, with over 4,000 precious plant and animal species still being illegally traded every year, according to a new report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The World Wildlife Crime Report highlights the need for a whole-of-society response, international cooperation, and targeted interventions to disrupt trafficking networks.

Why this matters: The persistence of wildlife trafficking has far-reaching consequences for biodiversity, ecosystems, and public health, and its continued existence undermines global efforts to combat climate change and protect endangered species. If left unchecked, it could lead to the extinction of numerous rare species and have devastating impacts on the environment and human health.

From 2015 to 2021, law enforcement bodies confiscated 13 million items totaling more than 16,000 tonnes across 162 countries and territories. Approximately 3,250 of the trafficked species are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The illegal trade threatens the extinction of numerous rare species, including orchids, succulents, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals.

Despite, two, decades, action, wildlife, trafficki trafficking, wildlife traffickers have adapted their operations in response. In South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia, traffickers have used alternative transportation methods, utilized online marketplaces, and stockpiled products to evade detection and prosecution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wildlife trafficking has far-reaching consequences beyond the direct threat to species populations. It disrupts delicate ecosystems and their functions, particularly their ability to mitigate climate change. The illegal trade also poses risks to human and animal health, with disease transmission associated with wildlife markets.

Powerful organized crime groups are involved in exploiting fragile ecosystems worldwide, from the Amazon to the Golden Triangle. These groups engage in various stages of the trade chain, including export, import, brokering, storage, breeding, and selling to customers. Corruption exacerbates the problem, with officials often turning a blind eye to violations. Wildlife crime cases are rarely prosecuted under corruption charges, allowing perpetrators to escape punishment.

UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly emphasized the urgency of the situation: "To address this crime, we must match the adaptability and agility of the illegal wildlife trade. This demands strong, targeted interventions at both the demand and the supply side of the trafficking chain, efforts to reduce criminal incentives and profits, and greater investment in data, analysis, and monitoring capacities."

Recent analyses of illegal trafficking in elephants and rhinoceroses have demonstrated that a comprehensive strategy addressing both demand and supply has yielded positive results. Over the past decade, significant decreases in poaching, seizures, and market prices for these species have been observed when high-profile policy attention, stricter market restrictions, and the targeting of high-level traffickers by law enforcement are combined with efforts from both the demand and supply side.

The World Wildlife Crime Report underscores the persistent threat of wildlife trafficking and the urgent need for coordinated global action. Despite some success stories, the illegal trade continues to adapt and thrive, threatening biodiversity, ecosystems, and public health worldwide. Strengthening law enforcement, reducing corruption, and investing in monitoring and analysis capabilities remain critical priorities in the fight against this transnational crime.

Key Takeaways

  • Over 4,000 plant and animal species are illegally traded every year.
  • Wildlife trafficking threatens biodiversity, ecosystems, and public health.
  • 13 million items totaling 16,000 tonnes were confiscated across 162 countries from 2015-2021.
  • Powerful organized crime groups and corruption enable wildlife trafficking.
  • A whole-of-society response, international cooperation, and targeted interventions are needed to combat wildlife trafficking.