How and Why Prevent Illegal Trade of Species?

Preventing illegal species trade is the priority of many organizations and individuals, but what is this crime and how can it be prevented? Here we'll tell you.
How and Why Prevent Illegal Trade of Species?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 12 May, 2023

It has been common knowledge for years that the Earth’s biodiversity is in danger, and with it, the planet itself. This problem needs several solutions, one of the most important of which is to prevent the illegal trade of species.

Reversing climate change, the melting of the poles, pandemics, and many other threats to life depend on this measure and many others. In this article, we’ll focus on one of the actions of human beings that most harms the present and the future of our planet: the capture, transport, and illegal sale of animals and plants.

Illegal trade of species and the CITES Convention

If you’re a nature lover and you’re interested in protecting nature, you’ll find it strange to think that in some countries it’s still legal to trade in certain species, as well as their parts or derivatives. Generally speaking, the law of each country regulates the collection and sale of each species according to its economic value for humans, mainly.

At an international level, there’s a regulation called CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Thanks to this treaty, a worldwide network for the control of trade in endangered wild species is established.

CITES-registered transactions comprise 78% of exotic animals and 22% of plant species.

Today, more than 37,000 species of animals and plants are included in the CITES list. Within this list there are 3 appendices that determine the degree of protection for each taxon:

  • Appendix I: This includes species threatened with extinction. Selling them, their parts, and derivatives is prohibited.
  • Appendix II: This section lists plants and animals whose trade is regulated for conservation reasons, but which aren’t necessarily endangered.
  • Appendix III: When a party to the convention requests that trade in a particular species be regulated, that taxon is listed in this appendix until the other parties approve or reject it.
Illegal trade of species.

The numbers

On paper, the numbers and the rules look impressive. However, putting them into practice implies a lot of adverse factors to control, resulting in unsolved problems such as the following:

  • The millions of species that aren’t included in CITES depend on the legislation of each country, which makes them susceptible to continue to be harvested and traded no matter what negative consequences there may be.
  • CITES merely regulates trade: It has no power to stop criminal activities such as poaching and the illegal collection of plants if they aren’t then traded.
  • If it can’t prove that protected species have crossed the border in contravention of CITES rules, there’s no legal way to take action against the traffickers.

Therefore, it’s assumed that crimes against nature are much more extensive than what’s reflected in official documents, huge in themselves. In 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), 20,762 seizures of animals and plants were made at borders and customs.

Illegal trade in species is worth between 10 and 20 billion euros every year, a figure comparable to that of drug trafficking and second only to the illegal sale of arms.

The two most endangered species are elephants (with trade in specimens and their parts accounting for 33.1% of the total) and rosewood, an exotic timber from tropical parts of Africa, America, and Asia. The tree from which this material originates accounts for 40.7% of the total trade in endangered species.

Why prevent illegal trade in species?

The reasons for preventing illegal trade in species are common sense: for the planet, for the animals, and for humans themselves. There isn’t much to argue about. However, the facts that touch our hearts are much more explicit and specific ones.

Surely you’ve seen images of a rhinoceros cut down in the sunset on the savannah. You may well also remember reports of inert rhino carcasses, either in undercover investigations, or in official reports of their seizure. Both sides of this reality allude to a basic human process: empathy.

Most humans are sensitive enough to be horrified by violence and moved by idyllic images. Therefore, the main reason to fight against this traffic is simple and, at the same time, full of nuances. Most people can’t witness abuse without feeling they must do something to prevent it.

To all this, we can add millions of factors and images. Wars financed by money from animal and human exploitation, a shrinking Amazon, polar bears floating on a chunk of ice, an elephant bludgeoned in a circus, a global pandemic, dogs cowering in a laboratory cell.

The list could go on ad infinitum and the illegal trade in species is just one part of it, distant from the Western world but intertwined with every aspect of daily life.

How to prevent illegal trade in species?

Finally, we come to the most important part of this topic: what can I do to prevent all this? What power does an individual person have against numbers in their millions? The answer is simple: people also number in the millions, and if we all act individually then we can have an effect.

Often, the information that reaches our ears concerns physically distant crimes: poaching in Africa, seizures at airports, and so on. However, unfortunately, abuse and crimes against animals and plants are present everywhere. If you want to fight against it, here are some measures you can take:

  • Find out which species are protected in your area: Sometimes a gesture as innocent as plucking a flower can have a negative impact on the ecosystem. Information is power.
  • Report crimes you find in your environment: The breeding and buying and selling of protected animals and plants are the source of many problems, such as invasions of foreign species.
  • Of course, don’t buy animals: You may be buying an illegal species, and there are thousands of animals waiting in animal shelters.
  • Reject all forms of animal exploitation: The money that’s given to industries such as fur farming, sport hunting, or food itself closes the cycle of financing many illegal activities.
  • Include ecological and environmentally friendly habits in your daily life: From recycling a tin can to buying fruit in bulk has a positive impact, so don’t neglect it.
  • Get involved with social pressure groups: Change always comes from the bottom up. Whether local or international, organizations that put pressure on the economic giants need all the support they can get.
A depressed monkey.

Above all, never forget that your individual contribution is invaluable to your planet. We live in times when great deeds are achieved as a group and not by individual names, so don’t lose hope in creating a better world for all.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.