Some experts estimate the trade in wildlife derived products to be valued at some US$300 billion annually. When fisheries and timber products are excluded, wildlife derived products have an estimated value of some US$21 billion. By comparison, the world wide trade in coffee, tea and spices is estimated to be worth US$17 billion.
The illegal wildlife trade has been estimated to be worth from between US$3 billion to US$10 billion. This illegal trade is highly lucrative and has been estimated to be third only to the trade in illegal narcotics and illegal weapons in revenue.
The value of wildlife commodities has been estimated to increase between 25 times to 50 times from point of capture to point of sale.
With its close ties to organised crime, the trade is well organized, utilising loose but well established networks of harvesters, middlemen, mules and corrupt officials to move millions of endangered plants and animals across national borders.
The sheer scale of the trade presents many challenges in terms of regulation and enforcement. Many biodiverse, rich countries simply do not have the resources to enforce national and international laws that protect their wildlife. In recent years, growing affluence and the global reach of the internet have fueled the demand for wildlife products, resulting in an accelerated rate of consumption of wild life.
Because of the Illegal Trade, Millions of Animals Suffer and Die Every Year
It is the millions of animals that die at every stage of the trade that bear the brunt of the suffering. The mortality of the live animal trade is extremely high, in some cases up to 90%. Smugglers take this into account by smuggling in large numbers and setting high prices to compensate for any losses.
The exotic pet trade is extremely cruel. Primates are captured when young by killing the mother - utilising the fact that the young will cling to the dead mother. Many of the primates seen in the market have not yet opened their eyes yet. In an attempt to convince potential buyers that primates such as slow lorises are tame, many have had their teeth pulled out.
Parrot chicks are often plucked out of nests when they are still young and then hand fed and raised by humans to tame them. Many die due to stress, overfeeding, underfeeding and disease. The nests they are taken from are often destroyed in the process. This has untold on the reproduction rate as some nests are used year after year by breeding adults.
Adult parrots are packed into cramped cages, sometimes smuggled in tubes or boxes to sellers far away. The stress on these highly intelligent, social animals is incredible and they are subject to intense fear after being plucked from their habitat, mates and community (Low 2003).
Eggs from nests are smuggled in specially designed vests and jackets and carried by human ‘mules’ through airports. Sometimes, these eggs hatch unexpectedly en-route to their destination so the newly hatched chicks are crushed to prevent them from calling out and alerting other travelers or customs officials. Sometimes, birds are bound in tubes and smuggled up the legs of trousers and in specially designed clothing.
Wild animals smuggled for the food trade usually endure the worst transport conditions as their survival and health status is not a priority to buyers. Transport is often cramped and inhumane; millions of animals die annually at every stage of the trade. It has been estimated that some 30-66% of birds die before they are exported (Species Survival Network 2007). Turtles for the food trade often arrive dehydrated, crushed, parasite ridden and in many cases, dead.
The trade in songbirds is cruel, wasteful and unnecessary. In Indonesia, catching methods were found to be indiscriminate, where all species were accepted by dealers, no matter how inappropriate for the bird trade. Poachers stole chicks and destroyed nests, using snares and nets. Poaches also used lime, a glue-like substance, to catch birds that would perch on limed branches. When the birds were pried off, many would sustain injuries. A significant proportion of the birds (30%-50%) died within 24 hours of being sold in local markets, due to stress from capture, poor transport and cramped, unhygienic conditions. (Shepard et al, 2004).