Imagine the site of rare lizards, snakes and birds cruelly jammed into inhumane containers to be shipped around the world with limited food, air and water; jaguar fangs for jewelry; shark fins for soup; and, illegal furs for fashion or trophies—these are just the tip of the iceberg when describing the horrendousness of wildlife trafficking. 

Illegal wildlife trade 

Wildlife trafficking includes the illegal poaching or other taking of wildlife for the trade of their parts, products or  sale as pets. It is highly profitable and estimated to be the fourth-largest type of illegal trade, after drugs, weapons and human trafficking. Roughly 350 million plants and animals are sold on the black market annually and much of the demand is either coming from the United States or being shipped through United States. 

2019.12.13 - Shark Fins Seized from Boat - USFWS

What’s worse, is that wildlife trafficking can be especially harmful to species already on the brink, because their rarity drives up their prices, leading traffickers to target them more often. 

Combatting wildlife trafficking 

As we face down the impacts of the biodiversity crisis, combatting wildlife trafficking and other forms of overexploitation must be a priority. Along with habitat loss, climate change, pollution and invasive species, overexploitation has been identified as a leading reason that one million species are currently at risk of extinction. 

How to end wildlife trafficking 

To end wildlife trafficking, here are some easy steps that you can take:  

  • Vote and Speak Up: encourage your elected leaders to secure more funding for wildlife law enforcement officers. This can increase inspections at ports with high volumes of illegal wildlife trade. 

  • Question your own Purchases: when making purchases, ask yourself – what is the product made of? Where did it come from? Do I need any special documents or permits to take this item home? 

  • When in Doubt, Rule it Out: If you’re questioning the status of a purchase, rule it out! No purchase is worth the lives of endangered wildlife species and demand is what drives the industry.   

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
Caroline S. Rogers/NOAA

You can also help combat wildlife trafficking by supporting organizations like Defenders of Wildlife. We have a long track record of working to counter the devastating impacts of wildlife trafficking by doing things like organizing public education campaigns in trafficking hotspots like Latin America, advocating for increased federal funding on Capitol Hill and working to improve wildlife trafficking laws, reduce trade channels and strengthen protections for imperiled species at international forums like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.  

Want to learn more? Read our full report on wildlife trafficking in Latin America.  


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