FAQ: Illegal Wildlife Trade

  1. What is illegal wildlife trade?

    Illegal wildlife trade in simple terms refers to sale or exchange of wild animals or plant resources, trade of which is prohibited under the law. This may involve live or dead animals or plants and their derivatives. The trade may be for the pet or horticultural trade, or trade in wild animal and plant products such as skins, medicinal ingredients, tourist curios, timber, fish and other food products sought after by humans.
  2. Why do people engage in illegal wildlife trade?

    Trade in wildlife resources has always been pivotal in the livelihoods of a large number of people in our country especially the tribals. Communities living around our forest areas have been dependent on natural resources for their survival. They have engaged in trade of forest produce either for cash or on a barter system to be able to meet their house-hold requirements. However such trade was sustainable and did not severely impact the survival of the plant and animal species. Of late, this scenario has changed.

    Driven by consumer greed the trade has become commercialized and taken shape of a well organized clandestine operation. At the source of the operation are the harvesters, collectors or poachers who often reside in rural areas without direct access to channels of distribution. They rely on visiting buyers to market their goods. In addition there are numerous middlemen who run a well organized nexus to transport and market illegal wildlife products.

    A large part of this trade is meant for the international market and has no direct demand in India. Wildlife in India continues to be exploited for trade in International markets.
  3. What is the scale of illegal wildlife trade?

    Illegal wildlife trade is quite wide spread across the globe. Perceived by organized criminals to be high profit and low risk, the illicit trade in wildlife is worth at least USD 19 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, according to a report commissioned by WWF.

    It ranges from timber, sea food, live birds, reptile skins, caviar, Tiger and Leopard skins and body parts to corals, hunting trophies etc. The most common products in the illegal wildlife trade in India are: mongoose hair, snake skins, Rhino horn, Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins, whiskers, Elephant tusks, deer antlers, turtle shells, musk pods, bear bile, medicinal plants, timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas and munias.
  4. What is it worth financially?

    Due to the clandestine nature of the illegal wildlife trade, it is very difficult to estimate its exact value. Though Interpol has stated on its website that various Governmental and Non-governmental agencies have estimated that the value of the illegal wildlife trade may be in excess of USD20 billion annually. The actual figure may never be known, as much of the trade occurs in less developed parts of the world, but could in fact be significantly higher.
  5. Why is illegal wildlife trade a problem?

    Illegal wildlife trade has led to overexploitation of the targeted species, to the point where the very survival of these species is becoming difficult. This aspect has been well publicized in the case of Tigers, Rhinos, Elephants, Star tortoises and others. Over harvesting for trade has also affected populations of many marine species such as freshwater turtles, corals and sea fishes.

    Furthermore illegal wildlife trade indirectly threatens the livelihoods of a large part of our population who are dependent on wildlife and forest produce to sustain themselves. These inhabitants not only depend on the forest resources for food but also for their livelihood. It is therefore crucial that these wildlife resources are conserved.
  6. Is all trade in wild species illegal in India?

    Most of the trade in wild animals, plants and their derivatives is illegal in India under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 that covers over 1800 species. This act provides protection to these species against hunting, trading and any other form of exploitation. India is also a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since the year 1975. Under the CITES agreement, international trade in over 850 species is banned whilst the trade in over 33,000 species is strictly regulated. To learn more please visit
  7. What are the legal implications of engaging in illegal wildlife trade in India?

    Hunting of wildlife or trade in protected species in India is a criminal offence with severe penalties and up to seven years of imprisonment as in case of Schedule I species. Incase of poaching and trade in Tiger and its parts, fines can amount up to INR 50 lakhs. Those who buy or acquire these products are punishable under the law. Wildlife products made from endangered species bought outside India would also require permits for their import to India under the EXIM policies and the CITES.
  8. What does TRAFFIC do to respond?

    TRAFFIC is an international wildlife trade monitoring network and a joint programme of WWF and IUCN. In India, TRAFFIC carries out research, provides analysis, support and encouragement to efforts aimed to ensure that wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature in India. The key strategies identified to achieve this goal are:
    • TRAFFIC helps enhance capacity amongst enforcement agencies for understanding and responding adequately to wildlife crime and trade related issues.
    • TRAFFIC helps to develop a mechanism for generating, developing and processing of “actionable information” around key landscapes.
    • TRAFFIC assists in strengthening trans-border cooperation for curbing wildlife trade.
    • TRAFFIC helps to improve monitoring and analysis of ‘Wildlife Trade’ related information.
    • TRAFFIC assists Governments to enact and implement policies and legislation for effective regulation.
    • TRAFFIC shall endeavor to develop itself into a Centre of Excellence on CITES.
      TRAFFIC shall help improve public awareness on wildlife trade and crime related issues across a diverse range of stakeholders.
  9. What can you do to help?

    Do not buy illegal wildlife products. Also discourage your family and friends from doing so.

    If you come across any information on wildlife trade, you may contact the following:
    A. Local Forest or Police officials.
    B. CUSTOMS, at airports, seaports and other international transit points.
    C. Regional offices of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau at:
    - New Delhi 011 23384556
    - Mumbai 022 26828184
    - Kolkata 033 22878698
    - Chennai 044 24616747
    - Jabalpur 0761 2840689
    - Cochin 0484 2428706
    - Guwahati 0361 2523709
    - Amritsar 0783 2588383
    D. TRAFFIC India – 011 41504786
© Abrar Ahmed
© Abrar Ahmed
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