World Environment Day 2016: A look at the sordid business of illegal wildlife trade

This World Environment Day, the United Nations Organisation (UN) has pledged “Zero Tolerance for the Illegal Wildlife Trade”, making it the theme for 2016.

World Environment Day 2016: A look at the sordid business of illegal wildlife trade

Illegal wildlife trade is an unrivaled, flourishing business and is continually on the rise. The kind of torture and harassment that innocent animals are subjected to in the hands of poachers and traders is unfathomable.

As per the WWF, the trade involves hundreds of millions of wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species. To provide a glimpse of the scale of wildlife trafficking, there are records of over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants in trade in just one year.

It is all courtesy illegal wildlife trade that human livelihood and the balance of nature is at stake.

This World Environment Day, the United Nations Organisation (UN) has pledged “Zero Tolerance for the Illegal Wildlife Trade”, making it the theme for 2016.


Last month, a leading online retailer came under fire for selling wildlife specimens and hunting equipment on their website, thereby appearing to encourage the illegal practice.

Soon after, this month, a wildlife trafficker was caught red-handed in Vietnam, for attempting to sell the frozen remains of Tiger cubs in order to make some sort of “healing glue”.

The shock and horror of this act had barely worn off, when news of the raid in Thailand's Tiger Temple began doing the rounds, wherein, remains of over 40 tiger cubs were discovered in the temple's kitchen freezer. A day later, a Thai monk who was trying to flee with tiger skins and fangs, was nabbed by the police within the temple's premises.

Similarly, a wounded elephant was in the news a few days ago, that went in search for help to a safari lodge because it was in pain due to a failed poaching attempt.

Tigers, Elephants, Frogs, Snakes and many more animals come under the radar of wildlife traffickers and traders, due to the immense demand for their various body parts, which apparently contain healing properties.

Below, we have compiled a few facts that would aid you in understanding the magnitude of the threat to wildlife that is prevalent due to illegal wildlife trade.

1. African Elephants:

Elephants are a massive target for poachers and wildlife traffickers across the world for their ivory tusks. Since the 1970s, ivory poaching has cut the African elephant population in half. It is estimated that the African elephant will be extinct within the next 10 years if this practice does not cease. According to reports from the wildlife organization Save the Elephants, the price for raw ivory in China was $2,100 per kilogram, in 2014. Between 35,000 – 50,000 African elephants are poached every year.


2. Tigers:

The illegal wildlife trade also paves the way for the exotic pet trade. Tigers are one of the top most animals in the world's growing list of endangered species. They are mainly hunted down for their skins and fangs. The WWF estimates that there are 5,000 tigers being kept in US backyards, whereas, there are only around 3,000 left in the wild.


3. Rhinos:

The Rhino horn is one of the most sought-after animal body part for its apparent medicinal properties. Although, there is no scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the rhino horn to treat illnesses such as cancer, it still remains a popular ingredient in traditional medicine. Statistics released by the United Nation’s’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) showed that 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2014. A minimum of three rhinos are poached every single day.


4. Pangolins:

Largely trafficked and sold for their scales or as bush meat, Pangolins are hughly endangered animals. More than a million Pangolins have been traded in the past 10 years. A report released by China’s Public Security Bureau for Forests and the University of Oxford found that the average price for a kilogram of pangolin scales is available for sale for $600. The price of a kilogram of pangolin scales for sale in 2013 was twice the amount as compared to 2008.

5. Marine Turtles:

Extensively used as pets and food, freshwater turtle shells are used for medicinal purposes as well. Currently, around 80 percent of Asia’s freshwater turtle species are in danger of extinction, while approximately 28,300 freshwater turtles are traded each day.


6. Asian Elephants:

Like the African elephant, the Asian elephant is also at a grave risk of extinction. There are an estimated 32,000 Asian elephants left in the wild. One-third of the remaining population, which is approximately 30 per cent, are being held captive in zoos, circuses, or used as tourist attractions.

7. Red Pandas:

There have been rising reports of Red Pandas being traded as pets in China.With less than 10,000 individuals left in the world, the population of the Red Panda appears to decline further. The high demand for wild meat, medicine and pelts, seems to be the reason behind their poaching and trading, while logging is consistently shrinking their natural habitats. 

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