Illegal wildlife trade

As human populations continue to grow around the world, so does the demand for wildlife.
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Illegal wildlife trade. Leopards' (Panthera pardus)
© Wil Luiijf / WWF-Canon

Silencing the jungles of the Greater Mekong

People in developed countries have become used to a lifestyle which fuels demand for wildlife. They expect to have access to a variety of seafood, leather goods, timbers, medicinal ingredients, textiles, and the list goes on. Conversely, extreme poverty of others means they regard wildlife as a means to meet their short-term needs and will trade it for whatever they can get.
Southeast Asia is a major centre for the wildlife trade, both as a supplier and consumer of wildlife products. This region includes some of the world’s poorest and most biologically rich countries, where commonly biodiversity is exploited by communities seeking to eke out an existence.

Elsewhere, greater affluence in rapidly developing areas has led to increased demand and purchasing power for wildlife products. Most major taxonomic groups of plants and animals found are traded, both within and outside the region, particularly timber, reptile skins, plant extracts and live birds. As a result of high levels of wildlife consumerism, unsustainable rates of harvesting are threatening species that were once plentiful and bringing already endangered species closer to extinction. Major markets supplying illegal products still operate openly in many countries.

There are many reasons why wildlife is traded in the countries of the Greater Mekong region, including:
  • food—fruits, mushrooms, nuts, leaves and tubers, are particular important resources in sustaining livelihoods in many rural areas
  • fuel—trees and plants are an important source of fuel for cooking and heating, especially in rural areas
  • building materials—for example, timber for furniture and housing to ingredients in manufacturing processes. Merbau, for example, is a tropical hardwood found in much of Southeast Asia that is popular for flooring in the Europe.
  • clothing and ornaments—leather, furs, feathers etc. Ramin is another tropical hardwood that is often used for decorative products such as picture frames.
  • healthcare—everything from herbal remedies, traditional medicines to ingredients for industrial pharmaceuticals.
  • religion—many animals and plants or derivatives are used for religious purposes
  • collections—many wildlife specimens and curios are collected by museums and private individuals

This trade is causing overexploitation of Greater Mekong’s biodiversity, to the point where the survival of some species hang in the balance. The rapid population decrease of species such as the tiger, Javan rhino and Asian elephants are examples of the enormous impact the illegal wildlife trade can have.

 / ©: Adam Oswell / WWF-Canon
Mong La, Shan State, Special Region 4, Burma. The skins of endangered Tiger, Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) and Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) amongst other species are openly displayed and for sale. This trader had large stocks of wildlife products in the store room behind the premises. They are supplied by a network of local hunters, traders and middlemen. TRAFFIC Asia 2006.
© Adam Oswell / WWF-Canon

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