Combatting the trade in endangered species

Through its global network and especially the work of TRAFFIC, WWF works to find and activate solutions to the problems created by illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.


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Above all, the aim is to encourage sustainability in wildlife trade, by informing all those involved in the trade, including the general public, about the environmental harm irresponsible wildlife trade can cause, and by providing guidance and support to counteract it.

Our approach includes:

  • Persuading consumers to make informed choices when buying wildlife-based products – potentially the most powerful conservation tool of all for addressing problematic wildlife trade. It is becoming easier to choose wildlife goods that are known to have been produced in a sustainable way and WWF offers advice on which these are.
  • Encouraging people to use their local wildlife sustainably. From fishing villages, to rainforests, to the African plains, much can be done at the producer end of the trade. Often the biggest problem to overcome is that of poverty, as poor people do not have the luxury of thinking about the future of wildlife when they are struggling to survive from day to day. WWF is working hand-in-hand with communities to provide practical help to overcome this hurdle.
  • Working with the private sector. WWF works with the private sector to put across the argument that sustainable wildlife trade is best.
  • Supporting the enforcement of appropriate wildlife trade laws and helping to develop these where they do not exist. Encouragement of voluntary support of sustainable wildlife trade is the ideal, but laws regulating wildlife trade and penalty systems to back them up are also needed. Legislation has been seen as an important conservation tool for decades and can be enormously important as a way of controlling wildlife trade, especially when used thoughtfully.To be successful, laws need to be widely understood, accepted and practical to apply.

    WWF supports the enforcement of appropriate wildlife trade laws by:

    • Supporting enforcement of CITES, the best-known international body for regulating international trade in wildlife.
    • Supplying training and tools and funds, especially in the developing world, where equipment and training for enforcement are often lacking. For example, WWF runs training workshops for government officers, scientists and traders around the world, channels money to anti-poaching agencies, and helps to publish identification manuals.
    • Encouraging cross-border cooperation – WWF has been active in forging regional initiatives to tighten legislation and enforcement in Southeast Asia (the ASEAN agreement) and the European Union (the EU Enforcement Group), for example.
    • Funding research – WWF funds and runs countless research projects to stay at the cutting edge of conservation for some of the world's most endangered species in trade, including by exposing weaknesses in enforcement of wildlife trade laws.
    • Raising public awareness – WWF publicizes wildlife trade laws, discourages purchases of certain wildlife goods, campaigns against wildlife trade crime and asks members of the public to report illegal wildlife trade.

    WWF is also active in promoting new laws for the control of wildlife trade, when appropriate.

    WWF action helped to bring about revision of EU-wide wildlife trade regulations in 1997, for example, and through its close involvement with CITES, WWF fights for legal protection of several species threatened by international trade on a routine basis. Most recently WWF has contributed to achieving protection under CITES for several marine and timber species, such as the humphead wrasse, great white shark, and the Asian commercial timber species, ramin.

  • Working at the 'top level', dealing with trade and environmental issues in a wider sense. For example, WWF's Trade and Investment Programme works closely with selected national governments to ensure that the mandate of multilateral environment agreements, such as CITES, are not weakened or over-ruled by institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, for whom economic priorities are pursued with little consideration for their long-term impacts.
WWF also publishes the Living Planet Report, which provides updates on the impact of humans on the world's natural resources. This gives authoritative and convincing reminders that governments must act now to reduce degradation of the planet, including species loss as a result of wildlife trade.

Besides work with a specific wildlife trade focus, the WWF Global Species Programme runs other projects which also promote sustainability in wildlife trade. Through its 'flagship species' approach, for instance, WWF aims to draw attention to many aspects of species conservation, including wildlife trade. Additionally, we run regional programmes for selected threatened species (African elephants, African great apes, African rhinos, Asian rhinos and elephants, and tigers) focusing on conservation issues specific to these species, including wildlife trade.

 / ©: Chris R. Shepherd - TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
A Sumatran orang-utan, confiscated in Aceh, stares through the bars of its cage
© Chris R. Shepherd - TRAFFIC Southeast Asia
 / ©: Ph. Jengi/ WWFCARPO
Illegal wildlife trade, southeast Cameroon
© Ph. Jengi/ WWFCARPO


  •  The WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard report selects 23 range, transit and consumer countries from Asia and Africa facing the highest levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.

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