National Geographic
Menu

IUCN Red List Stops Wildlife Trafficking

If you’re at all familiar, you know the world of wildlife trafficking is as serious as business gets. Although the case is strong against the morality of trade in threatened species, like trade in illegal drugs, it has a potent financial draw. All over the world people conceal species in every conceivable way as they pass through customs.Just this week in Cuba a man was detained who had sewn dozens of rare hummingbirds inside his pants and people will go to far greater lengths to smuggle species. People traffic in threatened species despite the real threats to the continued existence of the species they traffic and often their own safety.

Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) VU_copyright Mauricio Mercadante
Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) is highly prized for its aesthetic and resonant properties and has historically been sought after for use in musical instruments. It is listed on the official list of threatened Brazilian plants by IBAMA and listed in CITES Appendix 1, which prohibits international trade in specimens of this species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial. Photo courtesy of Mauricio Mercadante

There is significant evidence that the trade in threatened species is tied to both human trafficking and the trade in illegal drugs and weapons. Research suggests that the same criminal networks that trade in wildlife products often do so in exchange for illegal drugs, weapons, or people. Each of these forms a currency within criminal networks that is conservatively estimated to value $8-10 billion dollars and that uses the products of biodiversity to undermine human livelihoods, culture, and ecosystems all over the world.

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) CR_copyright Steve Garvie
Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) populations have declined by an estimated 97.6% since 1960 with numbers bottoming out at 2,410 in 1995, mainly as a result of poaching. Since then, numbers have been steadily increasing at a continental level with numbers doubling to 4,880 by the end of 2010. Current numbers are however still 90% lower than three generations ago. Photo courtesy of Steve Garvie

Rhino, tiger, and elephant are among the most infamously poached species. However, the trafficking in illegal wildlife products reaches far beyond these iconic species. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (conceived by IUCN and its members in 1963) monitors the international trade in roughly 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants. About 1000 of these are listed under Appendix 1, which prohibits any commercial trade in these species. To support these efforts, in 1976 IUCN and WWF partnered with TRAFFIC to provide a global face for research-driven and action-oriented conservation as it relates to wildlife trafficking and CITES, TRAFFIC, and customs agencies around the world are the front-line in halting the illegal trade in species products.

Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) EN_ copyright Dan Challender
Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) is Endangered due to rapid habitat loss, deterioration of available habitat, and hunting for local use and for international trade in skins, scales, and meat. The commercial trade in pangolins began to escalate in the early 1990s and since this time populations throughout its large Southeast Asian range have drastically declined. Photo courtesy of Dan Challender.

Within CITES and TRAFFIC, the IUCN Red List provides essential and timely information on the status and population trends of wild species as they are regulated in trade. The products of biodiversity traded in markets are not only the iconic species, the world’s global fisheries are markets for the trade in species and represent an enormous pressure on marine biodiversity. Illegal trade is also notable for the various species of tropical hardwood that are often illegally logged and sold as mahogany or rosewood, the pangolin, wild meat products, and the thousands of wild species that people eat, use as medicine, and keep as pets.

Black Abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) CR_Genevieve Anderson
Black Abalone (Haliotis cracherodii) is one of about 60 species of abalone. These species occur almost worldwide and generally inhabit cold-water coastlines. In South Africa, the poaching of abalone (Haliotis midae) has led to serious population declines and is directly tied to other criminal enterprises. More information on this topic will be released shortly. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Anderson

As the world’s oldest and largest conservation organization, IUCN has spent decades working with members, partners, and governments around the world to stop the trafficking of illegal wildlife products and  has been instrumental in halting the illegal trade of many species and species products. In this effort, it is the IUCN Red List  that compiles the baseline knowledge on which the actions to stop illegal wildlife trafficking are based and it will continue to be a pillar in the battle against the trafficking of all species.