Wildlife trafficking is the act of trading non-domesticated plants and animals
from their natural environment of being or raised under controlled and
non-natural environment either as dead or living animals. However, not all
wildlife trading is illegal.
Illegal wildlife trafficking is a major wildlife environmental crime, it
involves unauthorized and illegal poaching, smuggling, and trading of endangered
protected wildlife creatures of both flora and fauna, in contravention of the
law. Often leading to their overexploitation. Illegal wildlife trafficking today
is a serious concern as it hurts the survival probability of many endangered
species due to the lack of viability of their population.
It is a major concern today as wildlife trafficking is a big business, estimates
are that it runs in billions of dollars. The industry is driven by high-profit
margins. In many cases rare the species, the higher the prices paid. As a
result, which demands are driving the crime? Eventually, it all boils down to
consumer demand. Traffickers tend to target the species that are most in need of
protection. As a result of this pressure, many species are pushed to the brink
of extinction, making the demand for wildlife the primary driver of the
Wildlife trafficking poses a serious threat to global biodiversity by increasing
the chances of new diseases spreading from animals to humans, it not only
threatens wildlife but human health also.
Today's biodiversity catastrophes, like climate change and wildlife trafficking,
cannot be solved without international cooperation. The success or failure of
global and regional conservation efforts will have a significant, if not
decisive, impact on the future of many of the world's most endangered species
Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)[i] like the Convention on
Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS)[ii], the Convention on Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[iii], and the Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD)[iv] must continue to expand wildlife protections and
be effectively enforced.
While national governments and MEAs offer much-needed protection for many
species, their efforts are sometimes outweighed, if not completely swamped, by
the very profitable illegal wildlife trafficking.
CITES or The Convention on Trade In Endangered Species Of Wild Fauna And Flora
CITES[v] is an agreement between countries also known as CITES parties that
provides a legal framework for the international trade of different species of
plants and animals to ensure their sustainability. It works towards protecting
endangered species from the brink of extinction due to trade. It is administered
by the United Nations under the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).
Even though CITES is legally binding on the parties it does not override the
national laws. Appendixes of CITES specify the species. It classifies animals
and plants into three categories basis their extent of endangerment. The most
recent was the 19th Conference of the parties to CITES from (14th � 25th
November 2022) wherein different countries submitted their proposals for
stricter protection of the species.
Effectiveness Of Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Treaties
The effectiveness of most of these treaties is close to nil. The progress is far
from perfect. Talking of CITES, for several species experts even lack the basic
data like the population count, making it impossible to know the level of
The scale of trafficking is staggering, between 2006- 2015
more than 1.5 million flora and fauna, and 2 million meats were exported alone
from Africa to Asia under the guise of "legally traded"[vi]. When looked at
closely the volume of international trade of species not listed under CITES is
10 times greater than the ones listed.
CITES representatives are also negligent of the import-export mechanism. They
negligently issue, sell permits, or even allow permits to be stolen. CITES
however possesses the sanction, i.e., if a party is found guilty of violations,
then CITES can prevent the member country from trading in that listed
species.[vii] However, in reality, CITES hardly ever passes sanctions as they
always gloss over the bigger players.
In the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, despite
it was found that wildlife treaties played a very crucial role in reducing the
trade of some endangered species, biodiversity is still seriously threatened by
wildlife trafficking, and treaties need to be effectively implemented and
The efficiency of several international environmental accords, especially those
about wildlife protection, was examined in the research of UNEP in 2017. and
discovered that while there is certainly space for improvement, these agreements
have been successful in accomplishing some of their goals. Several suggestions
were made in the study, such as the necessity of greater implementation and
enforcement, additional financial assistance, and enhanced country
The study discovered that since 1970, the number of animal populations has
decreased by an average of 69%. The report said that a variety of reasons, such
as habitat loss, overfishing, and climate change, were to blame for this drop.[x]
Carnivores and ungulates' conservation status was already declining 40 years
ago, but it has since become worse. Nearly half of the species in Southeast Asia
went closer to extinction, while one-fourth of all species (n = 498) globally
moved one or more categories closer to extinction.[xi] Sudan, the last male of
the subspecies known to science, passed away in March 2018.
Since that time, the
last wild population of northern white rhinos has unquestionably gone extinct.
The greatest worry is poaching, which is primarily fueled by the desire for
rhino horn on a global scale.[xii] The IUCN Red List rates the Indian rhino as
vulnerable, the black, Sumatran, and Javan rhinos as critically endangered, and
the white rhinoceros as near threatened.[xiii]
Challenges to implementing wildlife treaties include a lack of money, limited
compliance, and governments' unwillingness to place long-term, enforceable
restrictions on economic growth.[xiv] These treaties contain restrictions, and
they might not always be the best tools for dealing with a particular danger to
Despite their drawbacks, wildlife treaties have aided in the
establishment of protected areas, a national law that prohibits the exploitation
of wildlife, and increased the importance of conservation concerns on
governmental agendas. CITES has been successful in controlling wildlife trade[xvi], and it has been used to protect several fish and wood species with
considerable commercial value that were previously viewed as going beyond the
purview of the Convention.
- Strengthening Enforcement
One of the ways to improve the enforcement is to increase the funding for the
enforcement agencies. Such increased funding will allow these agencies to be
equipped with the best equipment, hire more staff, and conduct more
investigations. Moreover, it must be ensured that the information shared among
these agencies is well coordinated. It will help to break down silos and will
allow effective sharing of information. To deter criminals from indulging in
anti-wildlife activities, penalties can be strengthened.
- Strengthening International Cooperation
There must be a global network of countries working to protect wildlife by
encouraging more countries to ratify and implement anti-wildlife treaties.
Financial assistance including technical expertise and training can also be
provided to support developing nations to implement wildlife treaties
- Addressing the Root Causes of Wildlife Trafficking
Demands for wildlife products must be reduced. It can be done through education
and awareness campaigns and also by cracking down the illegal markets. Moreover,
Livelihoods in rural communities can be improved as it will ensure the reduction
of poverty and make people less likely to turn to wildlife trafficking to make
Lastly, It must be ensured that wildlife populations are harvested sustainably and not overexploited by adopting more sustainable wildlife
management practices. We also contend that CITES is insufficient to address
transnational organized crime or wildlife trafficking and that a new global
international instrument is required.
- Technology In Combatting Wildlife Trafficking
Technology on one hand increases the ability of wildlife traffickers to stay
connected across the globe and increase their networking without much police.
However, on the other hand, technology also offers numerous ways to combat this
crime. It includes drones, air surveillance devices, gunshot detectors, 3D
printing, apps that help identify species, hand devices for rangers, and camera
These techniques can be simple and inexpensive especially at the
Continental level with the use of AI because of better internet connectivity
over time.[xviii] With the advent of technology, the process of collecting,
condensing, estimating, and sharing information can be done at an unprecedented
Transparency and accountability should be increased to ensure that there is
public oversight of anti-wildlife trafficking efforts and that governments are
held accountable for their actions. Research and Development should be supported
so that new technologies and methods can be adopted to detect and prevent
wildlife trafficking. Civil Society organizations should be advocated which can
play a vital role in raising awareness and educating the people. These
productive steps will certainly advocate the change.
Wildlife trafficking poses a severe risk to both human health and biodiversity
across the world. Despite being crucial in curbing the trade in some endangered
species, anti-wildlife trafficking treaties fall short of addressing the
underlying issues that lead to this crime. By adopting proactive measures to
preserve wildlife, we can significantly impact the battle against wildlife
trafficking and save the biodiversity of our world for future generations.
This article has been written by Jay Kumar Gupta and Khushbu Gami, Third-Year
BBA LL.B.(Hons.) Students of School of Law, Narsee Monjee Institute of
Management Studies, Bengaluru.
- Multilateral Environment Agreements, 1972
- Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species, 1983
- The Convention on Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna, 1973
- Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992
- Supra 4
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