Ugly Truth Of Wildlife Trafficking Worldwide: 10 Of The Most Trafficked Animals In Existence

These crimes threaten tens of thousands of species around the world, causing extinctions, hurting people and spreading disease.


Wildlife trafficking is a major industry. The annual estimated cost of illegal wildlife trade is in the range of $7–$23 billion . Wildlife and animal parts are trafficked by dangerous foreign networks in the same way as illicit drugs and weapons are. It is almost difficult to collect accurate estimates for the value of the illicit wildlife trade due to the complexities of the trade.

Wildlife Trade 101 | NRDC

Illegal animal trafficking is well known, such as elephant ivory smuggling and tiger skin and bone trade. However, numerous other animals, ranging from sea turtles to forest trees, are equally overexploited.

Not all wildlife trading is prohibited. Tens of thousands of species of wild plants and animals are captured or gathered from the wild and legally sold as food, pets, ornamental , leather , medicine etc.

As human populations have increased, so has the demand for biodiversity. People in many countries have become used to a way of life that increases demand for biodiversity.

They anticipate having access to a range of seafoods, leather products, timbers, herbal ingredients, and textiles. In the other hand, extreme poverty means that some people see animals as a desirable barter for commerce.

Pauline Verheij wins Commission on Education and Communication Excellence  Award in Europe | IUCN


Consumers continue to pay exorbitant prices for rhino horn, elephant ivory, and tiger goods, especially in Asia. In Vietnam, the latest misconception that rhino horn would heal cancer has resulted in huge smuggling in South Africa, pushing rhino horn prices to rival gold.

Many populations in the developed world, especially the poorest, regard local wildlife as an essential resource. Some rural households depend on wild animals for nutrition, trees for food, and natural remedies from both wild animals and plants.

Overexploitation of biodiversity has far-reaching consequences for the living world. Similarly to how overfishing creates imbalances in the entire aquatic environment, our diverse network of life on Earth is dependent on the deliberate and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their ecosystems.

Animals are killed incidentally on land in the same way as aquatic mammals are killed by bycatch. For example, rudimentary traps set for musk deer or duikers cause harm and death to animals other than those expected.

Illegal wildlife trade | Fauna & Flora International

Experts say the turtles were destined for the illicit Asian pet trade. It’s a storey we’ve always heard: animals are taken from their natural habitats for amusement, to be sold as exotic pets, to be used in meals, or to be used as remedies for various illnesses. And in many ways, that has resulted in several amazing species being included on the endangered list.

In that vein, here are 10 of the most trafficked species on the planet…

  • Pangolin

This ant and termite-eating mammal is distinguished by its scaly skin and long, sticky tongue.

The pangolin will curl up into a tight ball when attacked, but that hasn’t stopped poachers from illegally rounding up the species to the point where they’re now considered the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Why is this so? Their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat has a high demand.

world pangolin day 2021: saving the world's most trafficked animal | IFAW
  • African Rhino

Poaching killed about 13 rhinos a year in South Africa ten years ago. Fast forward to 2017, and the figure has increased by 9,000% to 1,028.

The horns of the animal are still in high demand, especially in Asia, where they are used medicinally to treat anything from a hangover to cancer. Despite conservationists’ best efforts, both the black and white rhinos are now endangered.

Conservation efforts bring cautious hope for African rhinos - IUCN Red List  | IUCN
  • African Elephant

Despite a ban on foreign ivory trade in effect since 1990, these magnificent animals remain a popular target for smugglers due to their prized tusks.

Poachers are expected to slaughter about 30,000 elephants per year, a trend that, if maintained, would result in the extinction of these animals in the not-too-distant future.

Both species of African elephants are now officially endangered | New  Scientist
  • Tiger

If you travel to an Asian region, you will be enticed to visit a tiger farm. However, these species are not only threatened by the tourism trade: studies indicate that the illicit trade in tiger paws, teeth, skin, and other body parts is on the rise, due to more than 200 such farms operating in these countries.

Although it is estimated that there are less than 4,000 tigers left in the wild, there are more tigers in captivity.

Wildlife Trafficking in Vietnam Still Driven by Myths
  • Hawksbill Turtle

Because of current fishing activities and trafficking, the hawksbill sea turtle, with its long, pointed beak, is the most endangered of all sea turtles.

Poachers all over the tropics hunt the mammal for its brown-and-yellow carapace plates, which are then fashioned into tortoiseshell jewellery and ornaments. If you see any for sale, you may want to think twice about buying them.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
  • Orangutan

Orangutangs have inspired a multimillion-dollar illicit trading industry as a pet status symbol, especially in the Middle East.

Poachers in Borneo, Sumatra, and Thailand are now ripping the easier-to-handle infant orangutans—which share 97% of their DNA with humans—from their mothers to satisfy the high demand.

orangutan | Definition & Facts | Britannica
  • Sumatran Serow

Although these antelope-like mammals live in hard-to-access places like steep mountains, hills and ridges, they remain a hot commodity with poachers who snatch them for their meat and the supposed medicinal qualities of their body parts.

Sadly, because few people have actually even heard of these animals, they also receive very little attention from conservationists.

Second-class protected Sumatran serow photographed - CGTN
  • Helmeted Hornbill

The distinctive Southeast Asian bird has a casque, or helmet-like construction, made of strong keratin on its bill (hence the name).

As a result, it is a common ivory substitute for poachers seeking to market it to carvers and jewellery makers. It is such a growing demand that the International Union for Conservation upgraded the species from “near endangered” to “critically endangered” in three years.

Hands off the helmeted hornbill! - Rainforest Rescue
  • Gaur

These big, wild oxen are found in India and Malaysia and are the world’s largest bovine animals. As a result, they are attractive to poachers who can market their meat at inflated prices.

Since 1986, these species have been classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Unfortunately, this hasn’t prevented poachers from slaughtering the cattle in recent years.

The first population estimation exercise of the Indian gaur carried out in  the Nilgiris Forest Division in recent years, which was conducted in  February of this year, has revealed that more than
  • Snow Leopards

These mammals have stunningly attractive pelts, making them an obvious choice for poachers everywhere.

Indeed, researchers report that at least four snow leopards are killed per week—a figure that may easily be higher given that the estimate is focused solely on the trafficking they are aware of. They say a leopard never switches his spots… but let’s hope smugglers do in the near future.

Wildlife trafficking

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