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This article is written by Vanya Verma from Alliance University, Bengaluru. This article talks about the causes of illegal transportation and smuggling of animals and how to stop it. Further, it covers the Indian legal regime to combat illegal wildlife trafficking as well as the ways the UNEP works to address the illegal trade of animals.


We look at how the illegal wildlife trading sector is expanding and growing into a worldwide threat as India prepares to commemorate Wildlife Week from October 2 to October 8. Various attempts have been taken to prevent these illicit traffickers, but most have failed to stop them from murdering an increasing number of species, some of which are on the verge of extinction. Despite many initiatives to increase endangered animal populations, their numbers have been steadily declining. This is a worldwide issue, not simply confined to India. Illegal wildlife trade affects the entire world, including countries with better laws and penalties. The expansion of illegal wildlife trafficking can be linked to a variety of factors, including lenient law and order, high demand in markets, and large profit-making opportunities. But, before we get into the meat of the issue, let’s understand the term ‘wildlife trade’.

Wildlife trade: Legal and Illegal domains

Wildlife trade is the legal practice of transferring animals to conserve and repopulate a species. Legal wildlife trade is common in zoos and national parks. The term has a broad definition and refers to a variety of plants and animals. Illegal wildlife trade, on the other hand, is the illegal practice of exchanging animals and plants for personal gain. Animals are injured and killed for their body parts in the majority of illegal wildlife trading incidents.

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In illegal international wildlife trade, 1300 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2013 as a result of poaching. It is estimated that 95 per cent of elephants have been murdered in the last 100 years, with 33,000 elephants dying each year between 2010 and 2012. Every year, more and more species are added to the endangered species list. Poaching instances have increased in the last two years as the price of such animals has risen.

The following is a list of illegal wildlife trade figures that are poached every year around the world. This is only the registered number; the actual number could be higher.

Species of Animal


Number of Killings by Poachers/ Hunters










Minke Whale






Snow Leopard





1 Million


Causes of illegal wildlife trade

Lack of adequate legislation to prohibit illegal trading

Illegal traders get away with their crimes since there aren’t enough harsh rules to deter them. The consequences for such offences are overly light in comparison to the horrible crimes being perpetrated, as they have not been acknowledged as a priority until lately. In India, fines range from ten thousand rupees to twenty-five thousand rupees, with seven to ten years of imprisonment. However, due to inadequate prosecution, the majority of the poachers are acquitted. The conviction of a poacher for three years was seen as a rare sentence in India, demonstrating how liberal the legislation is. In 2016, the illegal trade business was projected to be worth over $3 billion by the United Nations Environment Programme. The list of statistics on unlawful trading is endless. In Africa, the leniency of the legal system is a concern, with South Africa naming illegal wildlife trade a national priority.

Harvesting exacerbates the problem

The new justification for killing an animal and utilising it for trade is “I didn’t murder the rhino, I harvested it.” Harvesting is the practice of eliminating a species that has become overpopulated, to restore ecological equilibrium. Informal harvesting practises can allow internationally protected wildlife to be unlawfully introduced into commercial streams, according to a report on the international illegal wildlife trade. Killing a species to maintain a natural balance is like consuming large amounts of sugar to raise blood sugar levels despite being diabetic. There is no scientific basis for the argument that hunting is done to protect the environment. Furthermore, the majority of these animals wind up on the black market. Deer harvesting has become a big concern in the United States, with an increasing number of people partaking in deer hunting.

Transferring of Illegal trade items into legal markets

These items wind up in legal markets despite their unlawful beginnings. Although it was often assumed that unlawfully traded wildlife was sold only and completely in black markets, different investigations have found that the majority of illegally trafficked wildlife is marketed in legal markets. As a result, demand rises, resulting in more poaching. Illegal wildlife trade occurs all across the world, not simply where the animals live. According to data on illegal wildlife trading, the United Kingdom is both a transit and a key destination country. The UK Border Force confiscated over 257 items between 2009 and 2014. Around 3000 unlawfully traded commodities were discovered, including rhino horns, tiger products, and ivory.

Offering a huge amount of money

It’s no secret that these illegally sold goods command a high price on European marketplaces, encouraging poachers to keep looking for more cash. This vicious loop of greed has been a constant fuel for the poaching industry, and it is one of the top reasons for poaching. In 2014, the black market price for a full rhino horn was around $60,000 per kilogramme, with some rumors of prices as high as $100,000 per kilogramme.

Undocumented species being lawfully traded

Thousands of undocumented species continue to be sold legally on the international market, despite national regulations. There has been a lot of clarification about which species are endangered. Despite being on the point of extinction, certain species are economically harvested on a massive scale due to a lack of documentation. Fishing for abalone in Africa and whales in the Antarctic, to name a couple of instances. South Africa would be proposing few proposals to update the lists of species subject to restrictive trade regulations, the responsible body stated in a statement to the media. “There are millions of species for which international trade is unregulated, and certain cases examined for this research imply that these species can be legitimately sold globally, even when collected or exported in violation of national law,” the authority stated.

The diverse demand and usage 

The wildlife trade is employed in so many different ways, from medicines to carpets and rugs, that it can be difficult to confront it on such a large scale. It is possible to identify and stop one source of illegal trade, but researching thousands of sources is certain to leave some fronts unattended. Despite our country’s strict rules, over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds, and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants have been recorded in trade in only one year. The African subcontinent is the hardest hit, with Asian fauna suffering as a result.

Mongoose hair, rhino horn, snake skins, tiger and leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers; elephant tusks; deer antlers; shahtoosh shawl; turtle shells; musk pods; bear bile; medicinal plants; timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas, munias, etc. are among the products traded illegally in India. The majority of these illegally obtained parts are intended for the international market and do not have a direct market in India.

Illegal breeding at zoos and wildlife parks for the sole purpose of trading is one of the many complex reasons why the illegal trade market is thriving. Various human activities have posed significant hazards to endangered animals throughout the world. However, there has recently been a global awakening in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

How to Stop Wildlife Trafficking?

The prohibition of unlawfully traded wildlife

If all governments agree to make national law prohibiting the possession of wildlife traded or harvested illegally, demand will be reduced, and thus the trade will be reduced. For instance, the prohibition on turtle possession has resulted in an increase in the population of turtles in their natural habitat. Many animals have been banned from domestication over the years, with favourable results. The population expansion of peacocks, turtles, and rhinos has been a ray of optimism. We, as responsible citizens, should discourage the possession of animal artifacts in addition to legislation. Poaching would cease if the demand for such products is reduced.

Stringent domestic trade regulations

According to the Environment Protection Act of 1986, anyone who violates environmental protection standards would be sentenced to jail for up to 5 years or a substantial fine of INR 1,00,000 will be imposed or in some situations both. If the accused does not comply with the punishments, a daily fine of INR 5,000 will be imposed. If the offender does not appear after one year, he or she may be sentenced to seven years in jail.

The general notion is that the majority of traded goods end up in other countries, therefore local trade restrictions aren’t much focused upon. Imposing stronger domestic trade regulations could aid in the recovery of endangered animal populations. Kaziranga National Park has given its forest rangers the authority to shoot on sight any poacher who poses harm to the park’s rhino population. Because of such rules, 23 poachers had lost their lives, compared to 17 rhinos in 2015 according to park statistics. As a result of this, poachers have been deterred from smuggling wildlife and animals. Furthermore, the government has designated wildlife places as Animals Sanctuary over time, thereby conserving wildlife under the Environment Protection Act.

Increasing the funding to combat and prosecute illegal poachers

The amount of money available to combat poachers needs to be raised. Technical and financial support needs to be provided to the concerned authorities to improve the criminal justice response to wildlife crimes, particularly the recovery of traded products. Forest rangers in Africa have been outfitted with all of the necessary gear and equipment to prevent poachers from murdering animals. Similar up-gradation has been considered in India, concerning forest rangers. We have already witnessed the benefits of non-profit organisations focused on wildlife conservation, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The government should also try to support and assist organisations that are committed to preserving the safety of animals.

Empowering the people

Save the Tigers programs have been successful in the past in reducing tiger poaching. Social efforts involving ordinary people, such as these, can help to save endangered species. Poachers in West Bengal are now collaborating with forest officials to prevent additional rhino poaching, which has resulted in a drop in rhino poaching. Authorities have now begun working with local communities to raise awareness to keep poachers at bay. The WWF has been a major proponent of wildlife conservation measures. You can help stop wildlife crime throughout the world by donating to organisations like Save Animals Facing Extinction and the WWF.

Indian legal regime to protect wildlife

According to Article 48-A of the Constitution of India, the state must work to maintain and improve the environment, as well as the country’s forest and wildlife. As a result, the Constitution instructs the state to design a structure and enact legislation to protect animals through directive principles. Article 51A(g) of the Constitution of India imposes a fundamental duty on every Indian citizen to safeguard and develop the environment, as well as to have compassion for all living species. The Indian Legislation passed the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. The purpose of the legislation is:

  • To prohibit the hunting of wild animals and birds, as well as to punish those who do so.
  • Wildlife habitat protection and management.
  • Establishment of protected areas.
  • Trade-in parts and products obtained from animals are regulated and controlled.
  • The management of zoos.
  • Protecting animals that aren’t on the verge of extinction.

In layman’s words, the Act protects nature, including flora and fauna, and gives the state the authority to make modifications and amendments as it sees fit. It also allows the state to declare any suitable region a national park or sanctuary, as well as pass further wildlife-protection legislation. The Act also gives the state the authority to punish anyone who breaks the law.

The following are some of the landmark cases against poaching and/or wildlife trafficking:

  • In the case of Wild Life vs. Ashok Kumar & Ors (2019), the accused was found guilty of trading in leopard skin and was sentenced according to Section 51 of the Act. Officers were able to apprehend the defendant after receiving a tip. 
  • In the case of R. Simon vs. Union of India (1997), the petitioner questioned the legality of an Act prohibiting the trade in animal products. This indirectly takes away the fundamental right to carry on any trade or business as specified under the Wildlife Protection Act. The Delhi High Court, on the other hand, ruled that the Legislation is constitutional since fundamental rights can be regulated in the public interest, and wildlife protection is a public interest Act.
  • The case of Pradeep Krishen vs Union of India (1996) is significant because it casts doubt on the widespread notion that communities living near forests will always function following nature. The petitioner challenged the M.P. government’s decree allowing villagers and communities living near sanctuaries and national parks to get tendu leaves through contractors. Many trees have been destroyed as a result of the villagers’ activities, according to the petition. The Madhya Pradesh government has been ordered by the Supreme Court to bar any villager or tribal from entering wildlife conservation zones.

Based on the foregoing, one may conclude that both the Executive and the Judiciary of our country consider the conservation of our country’s wildlife to be an important issue.

Tools to combat wildlife crime in India

  • The Counter Wildlife Trafficking programme of WCS-India aims to assist mandated agencies in detecting, identifying, investigating, arresting, prosecuting, and convicting criminal groups that engage in wildlife trafficking. Their goal is to collaborate closely with the government to enhance wildlife trafficking conviction rates and, eventually, eliminate organised wildlife trafficking networks, ensuring that all of India’s species can thrive in their natural habitats. The initiative serves as a facilitator, allowing government authorities to have access to the knowledge, skills, technologies, and professional assistance needed to combat wildlife crime in India.
  • In 2008, TRAFFIC India was the first in India to train sniffer dogs for wildlife conservation. Over the course of four years, the organisation trained 13 dog squads, but after some failures, it returned to the programme in 2013 with fresh energy. A total of 25 anti-poaching dog squads, including the new members, were deployed in nine states across India.
  • In addition to the dog squads, TRAFFIC India and WWF have lately enhanced their training programmes for law enforcement authorities and forest professionals in collaboration with Indian government organisations. According to news sources, Interpol, in collaboration with the Wildlife Crime Central Bureau (WCCB), will begin tracking the rise in wildlife crime involving lesser-known species such as pangolins this spring. To gather intelligence, identify wildlife crime syndicates, and make arrests, the agencies will work together.

Ways the UNEP works to address illegal trade

The UNEP works to address the illegal trade in the following three ways:

UNEP supports the legal and sustainable management and trade of wildlife, in compliance with national and international law

Trade-in wildlife frequently has positive conservation consequences, since it provides incentives for effective management of both habitats and populations of species in trade, as long as it is handled responsibly and is adequately regulated. It can also create jobs for residents, reducing the temptation to overuse or alter natural environments. By providing revenue to assist wildlife management and conservation, sustainable trade can secure the long-term survival of wildlife.

UNEP and the CITES Secretariat have collaborated up to help nations and territories develop their environmental governance to meet Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) standards for combating illegal wildlife trading. This is accomplished by appointing at least one Management Authority and one Scientific Authority, forbidding specimen trade in contravention of the Convention, punishing illegal trading, and seizing specimens illegally acquired.

UNEP advocates for an end to illegal wildlife trade globally

UNEP is collaborating with other UN agencies and secretariats, such as CITES, to combat illegal wildlife trade both domestically and globally. It aims to enhance national legislation and assists countries in collaborating to address transboundary concerns with trafficking goods at ports of entry. Corruption is a major issue around the world, making it difficult to control the illegal wildlife trade. As a result, UNEP supports courts, law enforcement, and customs authorities in their efforts to combat wildlife crime and improve the rule of law.

UNEP also uses notable influencers, who may reach one billion people through their social media platforms, to improve public awareness and comprehension of the social, economic, and environmental implications of the illegal trade through its Wild for Life campaign. It hopes to improve international efforts to create and reduce demand for illegally derived wildlife goods in this way.

UNEP supports the conservation of the world’s biodiverse habitats

Human activity has altered at least two-thirds of the planet’s land and waters. Habitat degradation and devastation are contributing to the enormous loss of species that we are currently witnessing by some estimates, 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded history.

Destruction of habitat can potentially increase human exposure to zoonotic diseases (illnesses that arise from human contact with animals). Degraded environments, according to scientists, may even speed up evolutionary processes and disease diversification. This is why UNEP seeks to improve the scientific knowledge base available to policymakers.

Ebola, bird flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Rift Valley fever, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, and Zika virus disease were all mentioned in UNEP’s Frontiers 2016 Report on Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern, which included a chapter on emerging zoonotic diseases. “Emerging diseases have cost more than US$100 billion in direct costs over the last two decades; if these outbreaks had become human pandemics, the losses would have been several trillion dollars,” the report stated. Significant progress has been made as a result of UNEP’s efforts in gaining global high-level support for environmental governance and organising political will to create greater influence at the country level.


Experts think there’s still a lot to be done, starting with stricter laws. India lacks legislation that allows the CITES to be enforced beyond entry and exit points such as airports. This means that police officers in India cannot confiscate a species whose commerce is illegal under CITES and then question the culprit about where they acquired it.

At a time when international wildlife crime is on the rise, decimating wild populations of indigenous and endangered species, international cooperation is critical to combating the problem. The United Nations General Assembly passed the first-ever resolution on wildlife trafficking, urging countries to “adopt effective measures to prevent and combat the serious problem of crimes that have an environmental impact, such as illicit trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products…as well as poaching.” Despite the global urgency to tackle wildlife crime, India’s initiatives appear to be on the right path.

The problem of illegal wildlife trading in India may be addressed by individuals like you. It will take a concerted effort from all of us; these mute creatures require our assistance. So, if you see illicit wildlife trafficking, report it to the appropriate authorities. It’s high time for us to take action against wildlife crimes.


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