Illegal trade in wildlife

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Sorry, but this post is heart-rending. From Mongabay: “In a single night in March (2013), a band of heavily-armed, horse-riding poachers slaughtered 89 elephants in southern Chad, 30 of which were pregnant females.” 300 elephants were killed in a single raid in a Cameroon park in 2012. Experts estimate that some 30,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory tusks.

And it’s not just the number of dead elephants that matter: since many large males have been killed for their larger tusks, poachers are increasingly going after females, which means that herd matriarchs are disappearing and the remaining herds have no-one to teach them and socialise them.

Other animals, too, are joining the endangered list due to illegal trade. Tigers and other large cats are hunted for their distinctive skins, rhinos and other animals are hunted for their horns, which are used in traditional medicine, and small cute creatures like the slow loris are targeted for sale both as pets and in the traditional medicine trade. The pet trade is particularly cruel for the loris: 30 – 90% die in transit, while more die from the practice of pulling or cutting teeth, which causes shock, dental infection, and death. Even if the creature survives to be purchased, many die prematurely from a huge range of health problems that would not affect them in the wild.

There is, of course, a legal convention that regulates this trade: CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) was opened for signing in 1973 and took effect in 1975. The purpose of CITES is to regulate the trade in endangered species in order to prevent extinctions, but as of 2002, 50% of signatories lacked one or more of the 4 major requirements. Add to that the fact that membership is voluntary, punishments for infraction often fail to match the gravity of the crime, and that enforcement is patchy at best due to lack of funds or outright corruption, and you realise that the success of CITES is not all it should be.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) compiles and updates a list of threatened species, known as ‘the Red List‘. The list contains information about the threat level to a given species, from ‘Least concern’ to ‘Critically endangered’. And while this might not help in itself to save endangered species, it will at least provide information to help tailor efforts to save some of these species from extinction.

[Featured image: Siberian Tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). Image by S Taheri, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5]


  1. I have a friend who has worked on a slow loris conservation project in Indonesia, there they are sold openly on markets despite the fact that it’s illegal to do so. The really sad thing is that the are venomous and can bite so Lorises sold as pets have their teeth ripped out.

    There’s a great TED talk on the slow loris trade here:

    1. Yes, the cruel treatment of the poor creatures is one of the many terrible things about the wild pet trade.

      I’m not sure I could watch that TED talk: just doing the research for this post had me crying.

  2. It is very sad to read all these news.
    I can’t stop myself feeling powerless over all species that are in danger of extinction in the next decades (or just years). There’s so much one can do to help.
    However, sometimes, we find news just like these published today that gives us a bit of hope that maybe, even the little things we do here and here, are making a huge difference.


    1. Thank you for that link, Sofia: it gives a bit of hope that one species on the brink can be saved. You’re right, it’s terribly depressing to think of all the extinctions that will happen in the next decade or so if we don’t do something.

      That’s part of the reason for our blogs, I think. Both your blog and ours are trying to make people aware of how glorious these animals are (even the little squidgy ones!), and the more people know about them, the more support there is for protection. At least I hope so.

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