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Why the Illegal Wildlife Trade is a threat to our planet

6 June Jun 2016 1055 06 June 2016
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Every year, the illegal wildlife trade sees hundreds of millions of animals and plants being caught or harvested from the wild and unsustainably sold as food, pets, medicine, leather, or simply as decorative objects. The world's biodiversity is being eroded, and more and more species - including rhinos, elephants, gorillas, and tigers - are at high risk of extinction.

World Environment Day 2016 is focusing on the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), and the host country this year is Angola.

Illegal wildlife trade is the often unsustainable harming of wild populations of animals and plants, and pushes endangered species toward extinction.

Each year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist curios, and medicine. While a great deal of this trade is legal and is not harming wild populations, a worryingly large proportion is illegal — and threatens the survival of many endangered species. With overexploitation being the second-largest direct threat to many species after habitat loss, WWF addresses illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as a priority issue,” say the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).

According to WWF statistics, populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000. The second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade.

The scale of wildlife trafficking is enormous, with over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants being traded in just one year.

Populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000.


Due to the scale of the problem, WWF and TRAFFIC have created a global campaign to mobilize action. Some progress includes a landmark agreement, between South Africa and Vietnam coming together against rhino poaching. In Gabon, a special “Jungle Brigade” with elements from the police forces has been created to investigate wildlife crime cases, and in Nepal conservation drones are now being used to spot poachers: a technology that with support from Google is also being implemented in Namibia.

With thousands of plant and animal species on the brink of extinction, the problem of the Illegal Wildlife Trade still needs to be addressed on a global scale, with United Nations Environemnt Programme Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw urging for inividual as well as collective action. "On this World Environment Day and the other 364 until the next one we need to take professional action to support the global momentum for change in areas like ending the illegal trade in wildlife, but we also need to take personal action to take care of our own backyard," says his statement on the UNEP website

For more information on World Enviroment Day 2016 watch the video below, and click here

Photo credits: Getty Images/Carl De Souza