UN Report Shows That Wildlife Trafficking Continues to Impact Thousands of Species

Despite two decades of efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade, it’s still a persistent issue.

Those are the findings of the third United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Wildlife Crime Report, which looked at recent trends in the trafficking of protected animals and plants, its causes, and how to address it.

Rhino standing in grass

The report showed that, between 2015 and 2021, 4,000 plant and animal species were trafficked in 162 countries and territories. The most commonly targeted animals were rhinos, pangolins, and elephants, but there were also a substantial number of eels, crocodilians, parrots and cockatoos, turtles and tortoises, snakes, and seahorses impacted.

Plants are also often targeted, with the most trafficked species including cedars, rosewoods, agarwood, and orchids.

Trafficked species are typically sought for food, medicinal properties, as pets or ornamental plants, or for their value as status symbols, in the case of items like elephant ivory or rhino horns.

While the report notes that there have been some encouraging signs in the case of iconic species like elephants and rhinos, the evidence they found doesn’t inspire confidence that trafficking as a whole is decreasing significantly. The impacts go beyond just the species targeted, as well. Their absence can negatively impact the ecosystems in which they live, the livelihoods of people who depend on nature for work or food, and on climate change resiliency and mitigation.

Lone elephant walks in Namibia

There are key areas that need to be addressed in order to combat trafficking, according to the report. Some of those include increasing data on trafficking so the response can be more evidence-based, focusing more on the corruption that enables it, and understanding why the illegal trade happens and addressing those causes. These need to be done on a national and international level.

Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, explains, “Disrupting and dismantling this criminal enterprise requires multifaceted interventions at both the supply and demand ends, including through policy engagement, law enforcement and market suppression. Responses must be agile, targeted, and harmonized, benefitting from robust international cooperation.

“It is also important to always keep communities and their wellbeing front and centre. They are the custodians of nature’s treasures, and we must raise their awareness, partner with them, and protect their interests.”

If you’d like to help us in our work to rescue one of the most trafficked animal species – pangolins, which are sought primarily for their scales and meat – click here!

Pangolin walks at night
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