Wildlife trade is the harvesting and selling of dead or living animals and plants, as well as their related products. Revenues from wildlife trade total at about $10 billion dollars a year, making it the third largest illegal market after drugs and weapons.
Wildlife trade is considered the second biggest threat to Earth’s biodiversity, following the destruction of habitats. Countless species have been decimated to the brink of extinction through wildlife trade, e.g., elephants, rhinos, and pangolins.
Besides the well-known examples of illegal wildlife trade, e.g., the poaching of elephants and rhinoceros, thousands of other species are exploited in similar intensity. Wildlife trade, however, isn’t illegal in all instances. Countless species of animals and plants are sold legitimately as food, pets, ornaments, leather, and medicine. When an increasing proportion of wildlife trade becomes illegal and/or unsustainable, it poses a threat with severe impacts on species survival in the wild.
Many infectious diseases in recent history have been traced back to wild animals. Wildlife trade diminishes the buffer zones between anthropogenic and natural habitats through habitat destruction, increasing the likelihood of people getting in contact with zoonotic diseases. Additionally, species illegally traded are likely to be sold in places with low enforcement of hygienic standards, increasing the risk of spreading diseases even further.
Illegal wildlife trade causes imbalances in entire ecosystems and takes significant influence on vital biological links. Furthermore, it decreases the genetic pool of targeted species, increasing the vulnerability to diseases of any kind.
The illegal trade of wildlife has already pushed a variety of species to the brink of extinction, both directly (e.g., Northern white rhino) or indirectly (e.g., Vaquita).
The incidental killing of non-target species not only poses a severe problem in marine ecosystems. Traps laid out for certain species in terrestrial ecosystems, cause the death of a variety of other species sharing the same habitat.
Hot spots of wildlife trade
Though wildlife trade is a global phenomenon, it is particularly threatening in certain areas of the world. Hotspots of wildlife trade include the international borders of China, East- and Southern-Africa, Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the EU, local hotspots in Mexico and the Caribbean, Indonesia and New Guinea as well as the Solomon Islands.
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