Liz Rasheed is a 3L at New York University, where she is Submissions Editor for Environmental Law Journal. This post is part of the Environmental Law Review Syndicate.
Introduction: What is Illicit Wildlife Trafficking?
Illicit wildlife trafficking refers to “any environment-related crime that involves the illegal trade, smuggling, poaching, capture or collection of endangered species, protected wildlife (including animals and plants that are subject to harvest quotas and regulated by permits), derivatives or products thereof.” Many species are targeted by specific international markets, while some are targeted by a multiplicity of markets. For example, tigers are sold live as exotic pets, yet skinned for rugs, while their bones are sold for “medicinal” uses in Asia. Many reptiles and amphibians are commonly targeted for the exotic pet trade, as are primates and tropical birds. Still others are being driven to extinction due to their perception as “fine cuisine” in certain markets. Most notably, illicit animal-derived goods, such as ivory carvings, animal-skin rugs, and taxidermy mountings are seen as status symbols in many parts of the world, and the existence of a market for “canned hunting” of endangered animals on private game reserves makes it increasingly easy for illicit trafficking syndicates to launder illegally poached hides under the façade of legal hunts.
The growth of e-commerce in the global marketplace has made facilitation of illegal transactions increasingly efficient for would-be consumers while protecting their anonymity, and has thus made effective prosecution increasingly difficult. The International Fund for Animal Welfare found in a recent study that the number of online advertisements for CITES Appendix I-listed species in China alone had increased by 279 percent in the past six years, jumping from 544 advertisements identified in 2008 to 2,106 in 2014. Furthermore, the widespread use of social media seems to have facilitated new means of contact between buyers and sellers.