A brutal trade 

Stopping wildlife trafficking in its tracks

 Wildlife trafficking is undermining decades of global conservation efforts and driving species towards extinction. Participants at the ongoing IUCN World Conservation Congress are working together to pave a way forward for reversing this trend.

The existence of some of the world's most iconic mammals is under threat, with certain populations numbering in the low thousands, as revealed by an update released today by The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

Following the update, four out of six great ape species are now Critically Endangered - just one step away from extinction. These include the eastern gorilla, western gorilla, Bornean orangutan and Sumatran orangutan. The plains zebra, along with three species of African antelope, have also suffered losses, moving from Least Concern to Near Threatened.

Illegal hunting, combined with habitat loss, has been driving the decline.

Hunting has made the Grauer's gorilla population plummet by 77% since 1994, falling from 16,900 individuals to just 3,800 in 2015.

Grauer's Gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda © Jason Hall CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wildlife is trafficked for many reasons. It is used for food, traditional medicine, or to make clothing and ornaments. The illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, with an estimated worth of US$ 7 to 23 billion each year. 

Wildlife trafficking is a global menace. It increasingly involves organised crime and undermines sustainable economic development.

"You cannot beat illegal trade in wildlife if you can't tackle corruption" - 
John Scanlon, Secretary General, CITES, speaking at a High Level Session at the IUCN Congress

The time to act is now

© IUCN/Esther Birchmeier

As the new global conservation agenda emerges at the IUCN Congress in Honolulu, wildlife trafficking is among the key issues on the table. Global conservation leaders explored solutions during the high level session Everybody's Business: Ending Wildlife Trafficking.

Next week, IUCN Members will debate two motions that address this critical issue. Recognising, understanding and enhancing the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in tackling the illegal wildlife trade crisis is the subject of one of the motions. 

Indigenous peoples and their traditional practices can play a vital role in protecting wildlife and ensuring its sustainable use. 
© Kesan Organisation

However, they are often overlooked in efforts to address wildlife trafficking, where the emphasis is on law enforcement and reducing consumer demand for wildlife products.

Indigenous peoples and local communities living with wildlife need to be recognised as full partners in addressing the illegal trade in wildlife, according to the motion.

The second is a motion that encourages governments globally to close their domestic ivory markets. The illegal killing of elephants for their ivory is a problem across much of Africa, and there is a call for countries around the world to close their domestic ivory markets in response. However, there is no unanimity among IUCN Members on the issue - a vote is expected next week.

© National Geographic/Elizabeth Neumann
"Fortunately, a spotlight has been shone on the menace of wildlife trafficking, from the local to the national to the global level, by leaders who are standing up and saying: 'We have to stop this!'" 

Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General
© IUCN/Maegan Gindi

Held in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi  from 1-10 September 2016, the IUCN Congress is helping to define the path to a sustainable future.

Hawaiʻi © Dave Poore