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Trafficking of Wildlife Marks Fourth Largest Illegal Global Trade, Worth $19 Billion Annually

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The illicit trafficking of wildlife took center stage at a recent, high-level briefing for United Nations (UN) ambassadors in New York, reported Wildlife trafficking has reached an unprecedented level, worth at least $19 billion per year, and only surpassed by narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking. But the smuggling of wildlife—including endangered species, unregulated and unreported fisheries and illegal timber—is often viewed by governments as an environmental problem. Robert Hormats, the U.S. Department of State’s under-secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment, and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) CEO Carter Roberts stressed it needs to be treated as a transnational crime and injustice issue. It is believed profits from wildlife trafficking are funding terrorist-related activities, financing civil conflicts and purchasing of weapons.

“Drug and human traffic are getting a lot more attention than illicit wildlife trafficking,” Hormats said. “And just as we intensify our efforts to combat drug trade and human trafficking, we also need to intensify our efforts to combat illicit wildlife trafficking…. They all need to be addressed through bold and consistent actions by the international community.”

Criminal syndicates slaughter elephants and rhinos from South Africa nearly out of existence. Their bones are used for ivory, which is laundered and sold in jewelry form, primarily in Thailand, which has the biggest unregulated market for ivory in the world. Tiger cubs are being smuggled in crates from Thailand to Laos, where every part of the cub from its whiskers to its testicles are sold as folk medicine and as ornamental pieces that have become a status symbol.

The WWF, forest rangers, infantry, border patrol police and special-ops army force rangers have been leading an anti-poaching patrol for elephant ivory and tiger parts in Thailand. But high-level traders are rarely arrested, prosecuted, convicted or punished for their crmes. And combating illicit wildlife trafficking is a dangerous job, costing the lives of 1,000 workers in the past decade.

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The WWF encourages everyone to take action to stop illicit wildlife trafficking by pledging to never buy products made from endangered species and joining the WWF campaign.