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Wildlife Trade

The trade in wildlife involves live animals, animal products, plants and plant products. When we refer to wildlife trade it is usually that which occurs between countries some of which is recorded and monitored by Customs.
How is this trade possible?
Trade is ONLY possible because people buy wildlife for food, pets, medicine and fashion and other luxury goods, and the market is HUGE. This trade is estimated to be worth in the region of upwards of £12 billion worldwide annually. What is of huge concern is the illegal wildlife trade which serves possibly an even greater market. Hundreds of millions of wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught up in this large scale illegal trade of wildlife. There are estimates alone of 1.5 million live birds being caged and traded illegally each year!
Why is wildlife trade such a problem? 
Wildlife trade has become a problem because it is driving countless species towards extinction. This fact is compounded by massive habitat destruction, pollution and climate change, although wildlife trade is the second primary cause of extinction. This massive wildlife trade is causing over exploitation leaving one in four of the world's mammals - no fewer than 1,137 different species – and 15,589 species altogether in danger of extinction! As the human population grows, the demand for wildlife increases.
Even well known and popular species are in grave danger due to overexploitation, including tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses and chimpanzees. Despite being listed on the critically endangered list and thus supposed to be protected, these species are being traded alive, often in appalling conditions, or slaughtered and their body parts smuggled on the black market.
The threat to humans  
The threat to these species ultimately harms humans by creating an imbalance in nature, with many poor countries relying on dwindling wildlife for their meat protein, both on land and in the ocean, trees for fuel, and plants for medicines. Over-fishing is a prime example of creating an imbalance in the oceans; in fact wildlife trade is reducing the Earth's resources and human life depends on a fully functioning Earth!
Poor practices cause unnecessary deaths  
Sea birds and dolphins are also killed as a result of the use of inappropriate and often illegal equipment, a process referred to as by-catch. Over a quarter of the catch of global fisheries dies as by-catch and is discarded. The same happens on land with traps catching not only their intended victims such as deer, but other endangered and rare species. Whilst this is not wildlife trade as such, these practices associated with wildlife trade are incredibly damaging to other species of wildlife.
One area of the world which is a particular threat to wildlife is China where consumer demand is high. See our Active Conservation Awareness Programme.  
The role of CITES in wildlife trade
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Every year millions of animals, birds and plants - many endangered or threatened, enter international trade. Their body parts, such as skin, bones, tusks or organs, are sold as items of clothing, traditional Chinese medicines, exotic foods and trinkets. They are also traded alive, often under inhumane conditions, as pets or zoo specimens. The trade in endangered species is estimated to be worth over £12 billion annually. Of that, the illegal trade is estimated by INTERPOL to be worth over £6 billion.  
International trade in endangered species is regulated by CITES, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. However, lack of implementation of CITES by some member nations is a serious problem, and a number of protected species are over-traded and face extinction. For instance, as a result of the illegal trade in its bones and skin, some experts believe the tiger could become extinct in the next 20 years.  
The CITES Treaty was signed in 1973 in order to protect certain species of wild fauna and flora against over exploitation through commercial trade. CITES first entered into force on 1st July 1975, and now 175 nations (Parties) have signed the CITES treaty. 
CITES provides three levels of protection for species in international commercial trade.
CITES Appendix I: includes those species that are threatened with extinction and that are or may be affected by international commercial trade. These species may not be traded internationally for primarily commercial purposes. However, such species may be exported and imported for non-commercial purposes. Examples of Appendix I listed species are tigers, elephants, chimpanzees, humpback whales, sun bears, scarlet macaws, sea turtles, Brazilian rosewood, giant tropical pitcher plants and Asian tropical Lady's slipper orchids.
CITES Appendix II: includes those species that, although not necessarily threatened with extinction, may become so unless trade is strictly regulated in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival. Species may also be listed on Appendix II if their parts or products cannot be readily distinguished from those of other species listed on CITES Appendix II. International commercial trade is allowed for Appendix II species, but is strictly controlled. Parties may only grant a permit to export such species after they have determined that the export will not be detrimental to the species. Examples of Appendix II listed species are American black bears, southern fur seals, Hartmann's mountain zebra, toco toucans, iguanas, Pacific Coast mahogany, triangle palm and cyclamens.  
CITES Appendix III: includes those species that any Party has identified as being subject to regulation of exploitation within its jurisdiction and as needing the cooperation of other Parties to monitor international trade in the species. Such cooperation is achieved primarily by the issuance of export permits by a state which has included the species in Appendix III (these may be granted only if the specimen was not obtained in contravention of the laws of the exporting Party) and by the issuance of certificates of origin by other states that export Appendix III species. Examples of species listed on Appendix III and the countries listing them are two toed sloths (Costa Rica), African civets (Botswana), hill mynahs (Thailand) and bigleaf mahogany (Costa Rica). 
The CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) takes place every two years with regular interim committee meetings, to which DSWF sends a representative to lobby on enforcement and compliance issues and against certain trade laws. CITES plans to establish an open-ended wildlife trade policy forum on its website in the near future. http://www.cites.org/
Wildlife trade and consumers
It is most important that consumers in all countries, including tourists, make informed choices when buying wildlife-based products to reduce the wildlife trade of endangered species. If in doubt, don't buy it!
The wildlife trade laws
International laws through CITES and national legislation are both essential throughout the world to make the killing of endangered species illegal and regulating other wildlife trade at strictly sustainable levels. They are also necessary to encourage local schemes to reduce poverty. But wildlife laws need to be strictly enforced and have sound penalty systems to be effective. DSWF works on wildlife law issues to help stop illegal trade, working with all levels of society from local people to governments.
See our CITES project.
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