, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 24–32 | Cite as

Summarizing the Evidence on the International Trade in Illegal Wildlife

  • Gail Emilia RosenEmail author
  • Katherine F. Smith
Original Contribution


The global trade in illegal wildlife is a multi-billion dollar industry that threatens biodiversity and acts as a potential avenue for invasive species and disease spread. Despite the broad-sweeping implications of illegal wildlife sales, scientists have yet to describe the scope and scale of the trade. Here, we provide the most thorough and current description of the illegal wildlife trade using 12 years of seizure records compiled by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. These records comprise 967 seizures including massive quantities of ivory, tiger skins, live reptiles, and other endangered wildlife and wildlife products. Most seizures originate in Southeast Asia, a recently identified hotspot for future emerging infectious diseases. To date, regulation and enforcement have been insufficient to effectively control the global trade in illegal wildlife at national and international scales. Effective control will require a multi-pronged approach including community-scale education and empowering local people to value wildlife, coordinated international regulation, and a greater allocation of national resources to on-the-ground enforcement.


illegal wildlife trade emerging infectious diseases wildlife trade reptiles endangered species zoonotic diseases 



We thank TRAFFIC for support with data collection. This project was supported by funding from a Brown University Undergraduate Training and Research Award (to G.E.R.).


  1. Amin R, Thomas K, Emslie RH, Foose TJ, Van Strien N (2006) An overview of the conservation status of and threats to rhinoceros species in the wild. International Zoo Yearbook 40:96–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ASEAN-WEN (2009) Accessed 23 June 2009
  3. Balmford A, Bruner A, Cooper P, Costanza R, Farber S, Green RE, et al. (2002) Ecology—economic reasons for conserving wild nature. Science 297:950–953CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bailey TA, Silvanose CD, Naldo J, Combreau O, Launay F, Wernery U, Kinne J, Gough R, Manvell R (1999) Health considerations of the rehabilitation of illegally traded houbara bustards Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii in the Middle East. European Association of Avian Veterinarians Conference, Italy, 1999Google Scholar
  5. Cheung SN, Dudgeon D (2006) Quantifying the Asian turtle crisis: market surveys in southern China, 2000–2003. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 16:751–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973) [Text of the Convention]. Accessed 2 June 2009
  7. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora (1993) Thirtieth Meeting of the Standing Committee, Brussels (Belgium). Summary Report. Accessed 23 June 2009
  8. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora (2007) Interpretation and implementation of the Convention: compliance and enforcement issues. Fourteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties. Accessed 23 February 2010
  9. Cunningham A, Daszak P, Rodriguez JP (2003) Pathogen pollution: defining a parasitological threat to biodiversity conservation. Journal of Paristology 89(Suppl):S78–S83Google Scholar
  10. Daszak P, Cunningham AA, Hyatt AD (2000) Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife—threats to biodiversity and human health. Science 287:443–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Schrijver K (1998) A psittacosis outbreak in customs officers in Antwerp (Belgium). Bulletin of the Institute of Maritime and Tropical Medicine in Gdynia 49:97Google Scholar
  12. Dinerstein E, Louks C, Wikramanayake E, Ginsberg J, Sanderson E, Seindensticker J, et al. (2007) The fate of wild tigers. BioScience 57:508–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Engler M, Parry-Jones R (2007) Opportunity or threat? The role of the European Union in global wildlife trade. Brussels, Belgium: TRAFFIC Europe, 52 ppGoogle Scholar
  14. Falcon MD (2004) Exotic Newcastle disease. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine 13:79–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gómez A, Aguirre AA (2008) Infectious diseases and the illegal wildlife trade. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1149:16–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Guan Y, Zheng BJ, He YQ, Liu XL, Zhuang ZX, Cheung CL, et al. (2003) Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animals in southern China. Science 302:276–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hudson PJ, Dobson AP, Lafferty KD (2006) Is a healthy ecosystem one that is rich in parasites? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21:381–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hyatt A, Williamson M, Coupar B, Middleton D, Hengstberger S, Gould A, et al. (2002) First identification of a ranavirus from green pythons (Chondropython viridis). Journal of Wildlife Diseases 38:239–252Google Scholar
  19. Janies D, Habib F, Alexandrov B, Hill A, Pol D (2008) Evolution of genomes, host shifts and the geographic spread of SARS-CoV and related coronaviruses. Cladistics 24:111–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jones KE, Patel NG, Levy MA, Storeygard A, Balk D, Gittleman JL, Daszak P (2008) Global trends in emerging infectious diseases. Nature 451:990–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Karesh WB, Cook RA, Bennett EL, Newcomb J (2005) Wildlife trade and global disease emergence. Emerging Infectious Diseases 11:1000–1002Google Scholar
  22. Larkin M (2003) Monkeypox spreads as US public-health system plays catch-up. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 3:461–461Google Scholar
  23. Li YM, Li DM (1998) The dynamics of trade in live wildlife across the Guangxi border between China and Vietnam during 1993–1996 and its control strategies. Biodiversity and Conservation 7:895–914CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCusker R (2006) Transnational crime in the Pacific Islands: real or apparent danger. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice 308:1–6Google Scholar
  25. Milledge SAH (2007) Illegal killing of African rhinos and horn trade, 2000–2005: the era of resurgent markets and emerging organized crime. Pachyderm 43:96–107Google Scholar
  26. Milliken T, Burn RW, Underwood F, Sangalakula L (2004) The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and the illicit trade in ivory: a report to the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties. CoP13 Doc. 29.2, Annex. CITES Secretariat, Geneva, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  27. Paquette RS, Lapointe F-J (2007) The use of shell morphometrics for the management of the endangered malagasy radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata). Biological Conservation 134:31–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Patrick WS, Damon-Randall K (2008) Using a five-factored structured decision analysis to evaluate the extinction risk of Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus). Biological Conservation 141:2906–2911CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Patz J, Daszak P, Tabor G, Aguirre A, Pearl M, Epstein J, et al. (2004) Unhealthy landscapes: policy recommendations on land use change and infectious disease emergence. Environmental Health Perspectives 112:1092Google Scholar
  30. Roe D (2008) Trading Nature: A Report, with Case Studies, on the Contribution of Wildlife Trade Management to Sustainable Livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals. Cambridge, UK: TRAFFIC International; and Gland, Switzerland: WWF International, 84 ppGoogle Scholar
  31. Schloegel LM, Picco AM, Kilpatrick AM, Davies AJ, Hyatt AD, Daszak P (2009) Magnitude of the US trade in amphibians and presence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and ranavirus infection in imported North American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana). Biological Conservation 142:1420–1426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Smith K, Bradley K, Stobierski M, Tengelsen L (2005) Compendium of measures to control Chlamydophila psittaci (formerly Chlamydia psittaci) infection among humans (psittacosis) and pet birds, 2005. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 226:532–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith K, Behrens M, Schloegel L, Marano N, Burgiel S, Daszak P (2009) Reducing the risks of the wildlife trade. Science 324:594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sodhi NS, Koh LP, Brook PW, Ng PKL (2004) South East Asian biodiversity: an impending disaster. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19:654–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. TRAFFIC, The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (2008) Our work: wildlife trade. Accessed 2 June 2009
  36. Van Borm S, Thomas I, Hanquet G, Lambrecht B, Boschmans M, Dupont G, et al. (2005) Highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus in smuggled eagles, Belgium. Emerging Infectious Diseases 11:702–705Google Scholar
  37. Vitousek PM, Dantonio CM, Loope LL, Westbrooks R (1996) Biological invasions as global environmental change. American Scientist 84:468–478Google Scholar
  38. Wasser SK, Clark WJ, Drori O, Kisamo ES, Mailand C, Mutayoba B, et al. (2008) Combating the illegal trade in African elephant ivory with DNA forensics. Conservation Biology 22:1065–1071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weiss RA, McMichael AJ (2004) Social and environmental risk factors in the emergence of infectious diseases. Nature Medicine 10:S70–S76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wilcove DS, Rothstein D, Dubow J, Phillips A, Losos E (1998) Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States. BioScience 48:607–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) (2007) WSPA and Animal Planet take on the illegal wildlife trade. Accessed 2 June 2009
  42. World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) (2008) WSPA urges Vietnam to stay on track to end bears suffering in bear farms. Accessed 24 June 2009
  43. Wyler L, Sheikh P (2008) International illegal trade in wildlife: threats and U.S. policy. CRS Report for Congress, March 3, 2008, 49 ppGoogle Scholar
  44. Zimmerman ME (2003) The black market for wildlife: combating transnational organized crime in the illegal wildlife trade. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 36:1657–1689Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Wildlife TrustNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations