Illegal Wildlife Trade

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” 

E. O. Wilson

This very quote by E. O. Wilson preaches to us about the value of every life that exists on the earth and how imperative is to give them the admiration and civility that they deserve. Wildlife in its literal sense refers to undomesticated animal species but it has now also come to include all organisms and species that grow or live in the wild without the aid of humans. We humans from the time immemorial have tried to disrupt and disarrange their habitat in the worst ways possible, one of which is “Illegal Wildlife Trade”. With an estimated value of $7 billion to $23 billion each year, illegal wildlife trafficking and trade is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, arms, and humans.


Wildlife trade is the commercial sale of products derived from animals or plants usually extracted from their natural habitat or raised under controlled conditions. This trade ranges from living to dead animals and even their tissues such as skins, meat, bone, or other products. It has now become a serious conservation problem because of its negative effect on the viability of wildlife populations and a threat to the survival of species.

Over the years, the illegal wildlife trade emerged as a form of transnational crime that has threatened the existence of many wild species across the globe. Wildlife crime has become a big business run by potentially dangerous international networks. Because of its very nature, it is almost impossible to obtain reliable and exact figures for the value of the illegal wildlife trade but it is estimated to be in billions of dollars. In India, this illegal trade includes diverse products such as snake skins, mongoose hair, Rhino horn, Tiger and Leopard claws, skins, bones, whiskers, elephant tusks, deer antlers; turtle shells, bear bile, musk pods, shahtoosh shawl medicinal plants, timber and caged birds such as parakeets, munias, mynas, etc.

Illegal Wildlife Trade Leading To Biodiversity Loss

These illegal wildlife trades in endangered species weaken the entire ecosystem and threaten the essential connection to biological diversity. Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest global threats in this time leading to a narrower genetic pool and therefore less resilience to resist diseases of any kind. One of the biggest examples of less resilience towards a disease that the world faced is Covid-19, wildlife trade in China have been implicated in the 2002 SARS outbreak and now in this. It is believed that this trading environment provided optimal conditions for the coronaviruses of zoonotic origin which caused both outbreaks to mutate and subsequently spread to humans.

Wildlife trade in every case whether legal or illegal threatens the local ecosystem as it puts all species under additional pressure at a time when they are already facing threats of overfishing, pollution, deforestation, dredging, and other forms of habitat destruction. Illegal wildlife trade is destroying the wildlife species as poachers and traffickers only want to pursue profit at any cost to meet the demand of the consumers. These poachers ruthlessly kill these innocent animals for their skin, teeth, horn, or for any other product that is commercial to them.

Illegal Wildlife Trade Worldwide

The world is now dealing with an unprecedented rise in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. Interpol has estimated the illegal wildlife trade between $10 billion to $20 billion per year. While trade is a global one and extending to every continent, conservationists believe that the problem is most awful in Southeast Asia. There, the trade linkages to key markets in the world’s biggest markets such as China, the United States, and the European Union.

The legal wildlife trade at the international level is regulated by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) currently has 183 countries as its members. India has also been a member of the CITES since 1976. CITES aims to create international agreements between governments of various countries aiming to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It works by subjecting international trade in specimens of certain selected species listed on Appendices to certain controls. The lack of law enforcement, perception of high profit, and the weaker border laws contribute to these large-scale commercial wildlife trafficking.

Illegal Wildlife Trade In India

Spike In Illegal Trade Through Airways

India is among the top 20 countries which are listed for the illegal wildlife trade and its fast-expanding airport sector and is often used by wildlife traffickers to smuggle high-value species and products. According to a report published by Runway to Extinction, Chennai and Mumbai airports are origin points and key destinations for traffickers. There is a spike noticed in trafficking instances at other fast-growing international airports such as Bengaluru’s International Airport which then appointed a special wildlife cell in 2017 to handle this growing issue.

Live animals are packed into suitcases or handbags depending on their size with additional methods used to hide them. For instance, star tortoises which are just 12-15 cm long at the hatchling stage and grow not more than 20-25 cm make it easy to hide inside suitcases. According to TRAFFIC, around 1,11,312 tortoises or freshwater turtles (11,000 a year) were illegally traded and trafficked across India since 2009.

Some fauna species seized from check-in hand baggage were star tortoises, red-eared slider turtles, exotic birds, iguana, python, spiders, tricolor squirrels, marmoset and tamarin monkeys, iguanas, and even leopard cubs. Other creatures like monkeys and rodents are hidden in small baskets between chocolate boxes or sea horses in zip lock bags. India is also at the epicenter of the south Asian reptile trade. Protected and critically endangered species like the black pond turtles and Indian star tortoises are trafficked out to Thailand and Malaysia. The TRAFFIC analysis also shows a significant increase in reported poaching and hunting cases of wild animals in India during the lockdown period.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

India also has a strong legal policy framework to regulate and restrict the illegal wildlife trade. Trading in almost over 1800 species of wild animals, plants and their derivative is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 was enacted to protect the wild animals and plants from over-exploitation, hunting, poaching and to establish institutions that can ensure their protection in its full sense. It has sixty-six sections, six schedules, and seven chapters.

Chapter III of the act deals with the hunting of wild-animals, Chapter V deals with the prohibition of the trade-in animal articles, and Chapter VI deals with the forfeiture of properties derived from illegal trade and hunting. Hunting of any animal specified in Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, and Schedule IV. However, Sections 11 and 12 states some emergency conditions under which the hunting of animals is allowed.

Section 43 states the provisions for regulations of trade and commerce of animals under which the legal trade of wildlife is only allowed after the issuance of a certificate from the Chief Wildlife Warden. The Wildlife Amendment Act in the year 2002 incorporated Chapter VI(A) in the act which states that if any person or any trust acquired any property from illegal hunting, poaching, or prohibited trade of wild animals, the property would be forfeited by the State Government by the authorized officer.


In India like many other countries, the problem is not of the laws but in the implementation of these laws which are poorly communicated and enforced in the country. Often, positive efforts to address wildlife trade concerns are undermined and overlooked by governance failures and lack of political wills. Without political backing and support, disincentives for illegal trade and over-exploitation such as penalties for legal infringements and breaches are all too often weak.

Many animals are kept for months in markets waiting to be sold and are kept in very poor conditions with the vast majority of animals failing to receive even the most basic freedom from hunger, pain, discomfort, distress. These innocent beings do not get their natural habitat nor the opportunities to express their normal behavior. Legal trade of wildlife was started mainly focusing on conservative attempts to either pet them or to give them a more friendly environment to nourish but now it has reached its peak which is fatal to them. That’s why there is an urgent need for action to bring the legal wildlife trade within sustainable levels and to stop all illegal wildlife trade that has threatened and pushed many species towards extinction.


Why There Is An Urgent Need To Stop This Illegal Wildlife Trade?

It is very necessary to stop this illegal trade of animals and plants as soon as possible because it is, directly and indirectly, affecting the natural biodiversity of the earth. This illegal trade has also lead to extinction to many species which is again affecting the natural food chain and phenomena of the earth.

Is The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 Completely Prohibits Hunting And Killing Of Animals?

No, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 does not completely prohibit the hunting and killing of animals. Section 11 and 12 of the act gives certain emergency conditions under which the killing of animals is allowed but the hunting of animals listed in Schedule 1, 2, 3, and 4 are prohibited.

How This Illegal Trade Of Wildlife Can Be Curbed At The International Level?

TRAFFIC which is a wildlife trade monitoring and a joint program of WWF made for global conservation and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established in 1976 works closely with the governments and various agencies to help monitor and influence action to curb this illegal wildlife trade. Also, the convention by the United Nations works tirelessly to curb this issue.





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