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Introduction to wildlife trade

Have you ever heard us reference “wildlife trade” and not been sure what we were talking about? Well, we have you covered! Throughout 2021, we’ll explore this topic through various lenses to help you understand what it is and how it affects various species around the world, including humans. But before we get into too much detail, let’s start with an overview of the issue. 

Wildlife trade is the taking or selling of dead or living plants or animals or any products derived from them (NRDC). This trade is regulated by laws at every level from international imports and exports to local collection and trade. When wildlife is traded in contradiction to any of these laws, it’s referred to as trafficking. “Wildlife trade” and “wildlife trafficking” are often used interchangeably since the former is an inclusive term that does not distinguish between legal and illegal trade. 

Wildlife trade is a diverse industry that includes everything from musical instruments made from rare trees to live animals smuggled across international borders. After unprecedented growth in illegal wildlife trafficking in recent decades, many species are now threatened by industrial-scale poaching, collecting, and harvesting. Still, there’s more than populations of endangered species at risk. 

It’s believed that illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth most profitable transnational crime, behind the drug trade, arms trade, and human trafficking (Wildlife Trafficking Alliance). As such, it poses risks to human communities around the globe, especially in areas where wildlife is being exploited. Local communities may rely on the resource or the economic opportunities associated with its sustainable use; or people may also be exploited themselves by criminal networks. Unfortunately, corruption is common in some areas, further enabling illegal, unsustainable, or unethical practices. 

In addition to the multitude of negative affects driven by illegal wildlife trafficking, legal wildlife trade can also invoke concerns with sustainability, animal welfare, and even global health. The good news is that stakeholders from various industries are coming together to better understand and address the issue. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) aims to ensure that international trade in plants and animals does not threaten their survival. And the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is committed to reducing the risk of zoonotic disease, which represents more than two-thirds of all emerging infectious diseases. 

Over the next few months, we’ll learn more about these organizations (and others) working to preserve natural ecosystems, protect threatened species, and support local communities. We’ll also learn how trade uniquely affects different species or groups of animals. Most importantly, we’ll share ways that anyone can help drive positive change. But if you just can’t wait to learn more, you can explore on your own by visiting the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Wildlife Trafficking Alliance website

Sarah Hamilton
Interpretation Specialist

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl