Illegal Trade in Wildlife

The illegal trade in wildlife, which includes endangered species, illegal logging and fishing, is now the fourth largest criminal enterprise following drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. According to a UN Environment-Interpol report, the trade is 26 per cent higher than previously estimated, worth as much as USD $23 billion per year.

Illegal trade in wildlife has devastating environmental and socio-economic impacts. It leads to the degradation of ecosystems and the near decimation of iconic animal species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. It also creates major barriers to local communities for sustaining and managing their natural resources; leads to huge losses in revenue and income; undermines the rule of law; and threatens national security.

The critical nature of this escalating issue has been recognized by world leaders through the  UN General Assembly which passed the first Resolution in 2015 to strengthen national measures and enhance regional and global responses to wildlife trafficking. This was followed by specific targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 14 and 15 . UN Environment is working to address this issue by strengthening the evidence base for the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, helping to establish national policies, and building awareness to decrease demand.  

To raise awareness on the illegal trade in wildlife, UN Environment in coordination with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), launched an unprecedented UN campaign called Wild for Life, to mobilize the public to make commitments and take action to end the illegal trade. The campaign asks participants to find their “kindred species” and use their own spheres of influence to end the illegal trade; however it touches or impacts them. 

On World Wildlife Day, 3 March 2017, Kenya Airways and five celebrities from around the globe joined forces with UN Environment to help put an end to the illicit trade in wildlife. Kenya Airways announced that it will scale up efforts to eliminate one of the main transport routes used by criminals to smuggle wildlife from Africa to the Middle East and Asia. The new wave of celebrities that joined the Wild for Life campaign features: Mexican Actor and Director Gael García Bernal as a Jaguar; Nickelodeon child actor Aidan Gallagher as a Hyacinth Macaw; Indonesian Actor Hamish Daud as a Sun Bear; lead Entourage actor Adrian Grenier as a Sawfish; and Chinese actress and activist Li Bingbing championing the Tibetan Antelope.

Additional Resources

The Rise of Environmental Crime Report 

World Wildlife Crime Report 

Key Facts on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) website 

Sam Champion of the weather channel interviews Elliot Harris