What is Illegal Wildlife Trade?

Seized wildlife contraband in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Paul Hilton for WCS

Illegal wildlife trade refers to the unlawful poaching or harvesting and trading of live animals and plants or their parts and derivatives. As compared to legal wildlife trade, illegal wildlife trade tends to be highly unsustainable and difficult to track, being the 2nd largest threat to the very survival of certain species, after habitat destruction.

Being a lucrative industry, it is the 4th most profitable illegal business in the world, run by international organised crime networks fueled by demand. According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), this industry is estimated to generate a revenue of between US$7 billion and US$23 billion each year.

Below is a flowchart of the general illegal wildlife trade supply chain that highlights the various parties involved. With demand from the consumer country, which forms the highest level of the chain, the wildlife that is poached or harvested from the source country may go through a whole group of different middlemen before it ultimately reaches the retailer/consumer.

This shows that it is indeed a large-scale operation which undermines international security by exploiting regulatory loopholes and utilizing a whole range of transportation and logistics businesses to meet its aim.