How do you feel someone buys you and take your teeth for buttons? Or take you home and imprison you in a small cage? Let us take you to the journey of such a world, a voyage of wildlife trade. 

Illegal wildlife trade concerns the commercial production of the undomesticated wildlife extracted from their natural surroundings or captivity. 

It may be through hunting or trafficking by the large networking team of the traders worldwide. The recent globe is undergoing the wildlife trade and suffering a lot, elevating as a dire public concern. 

Table of Contents

The scenario of illegal wildlife trade

The illegal trade worldwide accounts for roughly $7-23 billion per year, around 25% of the legal market. 

The experts reveal that in the present context, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, traders are away from interacting face to face and have started their wildlife trading through online platforms.

To launch the business, the traders wait for the loose borders, and once it gets lost, they feel it is convenient to trade illegally.

Despite the travel restrictions and lockdowns led by the COVID-19 pandemic, the global illegal wildlife trade still seems to be.

There is a continuing trend of wildlife trade, especially within and between Southeast Asia countries. Animal exploitation is rapidly in religious ceremonies, keeping pets or meat and cosmetic products commercially. 

The worldwide illegal wildlife trade is a substantial aspect of species extinction on a larger scale in the present context. 

Compared to other nations, South East Asia seems to be the most prominent victim of the wildlife trade, which occupies the third-largest position in illegal trade after another. 

The illegal wildlife trade has detrimental effects on the wildlife; instead, it creates severe hampers on human health in the economy, biodiversity, and the overall environment. The indigenous community has played a crucial contribution in trading the animals illegally. 

Since illegal wildlife trade entails the large network team from the poachers to the consumers in most cases, they succeed in illegal trading after long-term pre-planning. 

Wildlife trading procedure

Since the networking team of the illegal wildlife traders is very complex, it targets the producers, entailing harvesters, and the primary level traders. 

The producers reach the traders, who include importer/exporter, consolidators, and processors.  And finally, the team ends up in the consumer, including end-users and the retailers.

Such a complex networking system of the illegal wildlife traders seems tedious in distinguishing and knowing their actual intention in conducting the trading activities.

Countries specific illegal wildlife trade

The legal trade has enhanced the illegal wildlife trade in various countries like China, South Africa, and many more. 

Europe, North America, and Asia are recorded as the fundamental importers of the wildlife trade.  Along with this, South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia are the net suppliers of the illegal wildlife trade.

1. China

Leather Jackets
Leather Jackets | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The report prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stressed China is hugely responsible for the illegal wildlife trade. 

Since traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or the fashion product, China is the leading country. 

With the tremendous rise in animal food demand, Chinese traditional medicine and animal parts for decoration have significantly contributed to illegal wildlife trading.

Still, people all around the countries intend to purchase animal-induced products in the coming days. 

Many trade routes concerning Asian ivory include China, Myanmar, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Japan, and Thailand.

The research prioritized seizing 496 wildlife and its derivatives traded to China or via China. 

The paws and gall bladders of bears, pelts, and bones of the tigers, meat and scales of the pangolin, the tusk of the elephant, and shells of the tortoises are illegally traded worldwide on a massive scale.

Southeast Asia leads the hotspot for the trading of reptiles illegally. The terrestrial borders of China are the primary transaction for illegal wildlife tracking.

Multiple leather industries in China seek several demands on the reptile’s skin. This trend has also led to the illegal trade of reptiles and mammals. 

2. United States

Decorative Items made out of animals
Decorative Items made out of animals | Image Credit – Flickr

Ironically, the United States alone accounted for the largest importers of wildlife. The United States mostly prefers decoration activities from wildlife products, and their demands on it are rapidly increasing day by day. 

3. Indonesia

Indonesias Orangutans fly home back after geeting smuggled
Indonesia’s Orangutans fly home back after getting smuggled | Image Credit – The Jakarata Post

Online platforms such as Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook have significantly promoted the illegal wildlife trade. In concern to online ivory, Indonesia is the lead one. 

The illicit wildlife trade, wildlife entailing One-horned Rhinoceros, Musk deer, Red panda, tigers, Snow leopard, Pangolin, Squirrel, Brown bear, Asian and African elephants recorded at the threatened stage in terms of the trader’s attention in wildlife trading.

The Philippines wildlife research released by Emerson Sy from TRAFFIC shows the massive contribution of Facebook and Tiktok in selling critically endangered wildlife.

Roughly two-thirds of the golden monitor lizards got advertised on Facebook from 2017 to 2019, confined to the Philippines only. 

Two-thirds of the monitor lizards were from the eleven species that are endemic to the Philippines. 

The Philippines’ critically endangered forest turtle is the most heavily sold species in China, Japan, and the Philippines. 

4. Vietnam

Vietnam seizes eight tonnes of ivory pangolun scales
Vietnam seizes eight tonnes of ivory pangolin scales | Image Credit – The Himalayan Times

Between January and March 2020, approximately 22 tons of pangolin scales were traded in Vietnam. 

They were made ready to export once the border gets loosed, as depicted by the Environmental Investigations Agency and Wildlife Justice Commission.

5. Cambodia

Illegal Hunting in Cambodia
Illegal Hunting in Cambodia | Image Credit – The Green Political Foundation

It’s very ironic to insist that once China banned the illegal export of wildlife, in turn, Cambodia promoted the open illicit market of ivory.

Fundamentally, the wildlife is traded and hunted illegally for skin, fur, horn, tusk, and much more. 

6. Malaysia

Roughly six metric tons of the African pangolin scales were seized in Malaysia in 2020. It is regarded as the most trading of the pangolin parts among the South Asian countries in 2019.

7. Nepal

Nepal elephant ride operators illegally selling animals to India
Nepal elephant ride operators illegally selling animals to India | Image Credit – The Third Pole

Nepal is a landlocked country and acts as a transit country for illegal wildlife trading. 

Because of the poor and inadequate livelihood, the poor people are forced to involve themselves in illegal wildlife trading. 

The primary team members involved in the trading lure the poor people to kill the animal and export it, showing the hope of money.

Most seizure cases were recorded from the Bengal tiger, pangolin, one-horned Rhinoceros, deer, and Red Panda. Most of the illegal trade cases involved the native species of Nepal.

8. India

Patagonian seahorse trading
Patagonian seahorse trading | Image Credit – DNA India

The country India is too not an exception. The Patagonian seahorse is heavily traded in India for medicinal purposes. The transit countries that link with India for illegal wildlife trading are Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Srilanka. 

The more countries are neighboring each other, the more the chance of wildlife trafficking on a larger scale. It restricts the wildlife from roaming and enjoying their natural habitats.

9. Africa

African Elephants are decreasing day by day | Image Credit – Flickr

Mainly in the African countries, we hear about the African elephant’s illegal trade for ivory. The number of African elephants is decreasing day by day today.

Activities in controlling the illegal wildlife trade

A series of activities intended to alter the trading strategies being developed. 

  • Conducting awareness campaigns, 
  • Promoting local participation in controlling the wildlife trading mechanisms, 
  • Suspending the groups that violate the policies against wildlife conservation,
  • Identifying the illegal traders and managing the trade,
  • Deploying more security,
  • Monitoring every activity taken by the poachers.


Severe effects of the illegal wildlife trade are confined to the wildlife; instead, it has detrimental consequences even in the global economy and biodiversity. 

The tremendous increment in the human lifestyle lacks our morality to the animals. Importing the wildlife products worth roughly 160 US billion dollars each year globally in the early 1990s laments the wildlife overexploitation.

Indeed, the alarming overpopulation rate has also accounted for the increasing demand for wildlife-induced products. 

The fundamental aspects which need to be entailed to control the illegal wildlife trade are the massive investment in the regular monitoring and auditing of the wildlife species timely, increasing the human resources and capital. 

Until and unless we carry out the proper plan-oriented approach towards controlling the wildlife trade illegally, we would not be able to conserve wildlife for a prolonged period. 

(Last Updated on May 26, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.