The Crisis

Wildlife trafficking is decimating many endangered species around the globe due to an organized and highly sophisticated illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products. Wildlife trafficking has quickly become a multi-billion dollar transnational criminal activity that is not only a critical conservation issue, but is also a threat to security. It is ranked as the fourth most profitable transnational crime, only behind the drug trade, arms trade, and human trafficking. Wildlife trafficking undermines conservation efforts, fuels corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for eco- tourism revenues.

Learn more about the animals most at risk, and what you can do to save them.

Meet more species at risk

Get the facts:

Wildlife trafficking is an international crisis, with an unprecedented increase in illegal wildlife trade throughout the world in the past thirty years. Populations of endangered species have plummeted, yet the illegal trade shows no indication of slowing down. An unprecedented global demand for exotic wildlife products has triggered an industrial-scale killing spree of endangered animals on land and sea.  Wildlife trafficking, which depends on the killing of hundreds of thousands of animals, is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry. Money from the illegal wildlife trade has been linked to organized criminal gangs and corrupt governments—all at the expense of wild animals, the environment, and our national security.

Roughly 5,800 species of animals are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade.  They include some whole groups, such as primates, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sea turtles, parrots, corals, cacti and orchids. But in some cases, only a subspecies or geographically separate population of a species (for example the population of just one country) is listed.  

Learn about some of the most common victims of the illegal wildlife trade.

A recent United Nations report reveals that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction due to human activities, including poaching; and that we are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.” Although the loss of African wildlife garners the most attention, wildlife traffickers are decimating important wildlife populations around the world. Endangered species are being poached in Latin America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the United States. And once the products are smuggled out of the home country, they enter an industrial-scale illegal trade that spans the globe. Wildlife experts have confirmed that if we don’t act quickly, trafficking will wipe out many endangered species in our lifetime.

As animals disappear from the wild, the opportunity to view them decreases—creating a domino effect that is rippling across the travel and tourism industry.  A new study has shown that elephant poaching alone is costing a whopping $25 million per year in lost tourism revenues.  For the animals, this is a matter of life and death.  But for many who depend on tourist revenues, it’s a matter of livelihood as well. 

The public overwhelmingly supports wildlife conservation, but nearly half of people surveyed in the United States have no awareness about illegal wildlife trafficking, according to a 2018 poll by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Wildlife Trafficking Alliance.  An overwhelming majority of people in the U.S. say that they oppose wildlife trafficking (74%), but most are unaware that their purchases may be contributing to the problem.

The quickest and most direct way to strangle the international syndicates that are orchestrating the killings is to stigmatize and reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products.  

While great inroads have been made by leaders across sectors (federal, commercial, and not-for-profit) to stop illegal traffickers, enhance enforcement efforts, create sustainable supply chains, and build awareness among the general public, more needs to be done, and quickly.

We must all work together to stop consumer demand and cut off supply chains and market access for illegal wildlife products.  Be Informed and #Buy Informed, and learn what you can do to take action!

In 2014, the White House released National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which called for a collaborative effort with foreign governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to reduce supply and demand for illegal wildlife products. On July 31, 2015, the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance was announced to coordinate this “whole of civil society” approach to combat the scourge of wildlife trafficking.

Congress also supported this effort through its bipartisan passage of the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (“END”) Wildlife Trafficking Act in October 2016. The Act continues the work of the National Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking and requires ongoing reports of progress made under the National Strategy and its Implementation Plan.