Animals Involved and the Size of Illegal Wildlife Markets
Thousands of species are affected by illegal wildlife trade. Currently, about 5,000 animal species and 28,000 plant species are legally protected. Protected species include a range of mammals such as rhinoceroses, tigers and bears, to reptiles, birds, butterflies and beetles.
Nobody knows how many animals are illegally trafficked each year. However, the legal wildlife trade comprises over 25,000 primates, 2 to 3 million birds, 10 million reptile skins, and over 500 million tropical fish each year. A snapshot of wildlife products offered for sale online provides some insights into the potential size of illegal wildlife trade. A sampling of a single week’s worth of online English-language listings in five categories of wildlife products (primates, elephant products, turtle and tortoise shells, reptile products, and wild cat products) conducted in January 2005 by the United Kingdom office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) revealed well over 9,000 separate offerings by private individuals and traders. Of these, about three-quarters (6,750) were from protected species whose trade was illegal.
The products ran the gamut, from a $70,000 live two-year-old Siberian tiger and a host of other tiger products to $65,000 chimpanzees, an $8,200 seven-year-old gorilla, whole $100 hawksbill turtle shells, and over 5,500 individual elephant products ranging from chess sets to $18,000 ivory sculptures. And this simply represents a seven-day snapshot of five product areas offered to the English online market. If one expands that to include commerce over an entire year in other protected species, other languages, and non-internet markets, the possible quantities are staggering.