The big and often shady business of wildlife trade
September 30, 2019
Otters as pets, rhinos as trophies and precious tropical wood for furniture — the wildlife business is broad, lucrative, and often outside the law. DW takes a deep dive into all aspects of the trade.
It's a multi-billion dollar business
Wildlife trade is booming thanks to our appetite for snakeskin leather bags, clout-worthy pictures of cute exotic pets on Instagram, and animal parts used as rare dining delicacies and traditional medicine.
Wildlife trafficking in Peru
Lots of animal and plant species involved are protected and are traded illegally — even in obscure rainforest markets. That's put wildlife crime up there with drugs and human trafficking as one of world's biggest illicit markets. Little wonder when you look at the price of pangolin scales. A kilo of the anteater's scales, which are made of keratin, can fetch up to $1000 on the black market.
The illegal nature of the illicit wildlife trade, makes it difficult to nail down exact figures but some estimates put the market for animal products alone at around $20 billion (€18.1 billion).
Shady dealing in endangered wildlife
Endangered animals are traded on the internet on platforms like Facebook
Europe, especially Germany, is a major hub for reptile trade and trafficking
Thousands of animals change hands at reptile fairs, like the Terraristika in the small German city of Hamm, where DW went undercover to experience the market firsthand. The laws are relatively lax in Europe when it comes to trading wild animals. Once wildlife gets into Europe, it can be sold legally even if it was smuggled out of its native country.
Trading reptiles online
Some conservationists argue that legal and regulated trade can be good for species
A lot of the wildlife business is covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an agreement signed by 182 countries plus the European Union, restricting and in some cases prohibiting the cross-border sale of threatened wildlife.
A number of conservation groups say trade — as long as it is well monitored and regulated — can help protect habitats and the species themselves because it give locals a financial stake in saving the animals. Take exotic snake skins used by luxury fashion labels for bags and shoes. Where that's done sustainably, species populations are healthy, they say. Not everyone agrees though.
Hunters pay up to $150,000 to kill elephants and rhinos as trophies
It's a controversial claim. Moral arguments aside, some conservationists say that trophy hunting of rare animals in particular does more harm than good and can act as a smokescreen for poaching and illegal trade.
It's not just animals that are illegally traded. There's a mafia for trees too
Plant and tree species are covered by the CITES agreement too and many have been traded into near extinction. Tropical timber is particularly treasured and the rarer, the better.
Mafia-like syndicates run tropical timber rackets to bring products like highly lucrative Thailand rosewood from forests in Southeast Asia to markets such as China where it's in high demand. The wood is used for furniture, musical instruments and other items and a cubic meter of the red-hued timber can fetch thousands of dollars.