Species Terrorism: Why a Unified International Approach to Illegal Wildlife Trade is Essential to Saving and Maintaining Ecosystems

A blog post by Aine Dillon, Junior Associate.

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be valued between seven to twenty-three billion dollars and is the fourth largest criminal market globally.[1]  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”) is an international treaty administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (“UNEP”) with 183 participating countries.[2]  CITES’s main goal is to prevent animal and plant species from becoming endangered or extinct due to international trade.[3]  CITES defines wildlife crime as the “taking, trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, possessing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products, in contravention of national or international law.”[4]  Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”) estimated that there are almost 17,000 animals facing extinction, and the current extinction rate is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the “background” or expected natural extinction rate.[5]

CITES does not mandate how individual countries should enforce their rules in order to strive towards the unified goals of the convention.[6]  Although this leniency allows countries with fewer resources to participate in CITES, it also allows for some countries to be more proactive in fighting wildlife crime than others.  CITES is a trade treaty, and therefore, has no enforcement measures.[7]  Instead, CITES forces the participating Parties to have laws set in place to comply with the conference’s goals.[8]  For CITES to be successful, there must be a unified approach to ending wildlife trafficking.[9]  Not only should the approach be unified, but it should be tailored to each species that is illegally traded due to the different markets, demands, nature of the species, and severity of the risk of extinction.[10] The American alligator and the Peruvian Vicuña are examples of the tailored species-by-species approach proving effective in combatting the illegal wildlife trade.[11]

[1] United Nations Env’l Programme, The Rise of Environmental Crime: A Growing Threat to Natural Resources Peace, Development and Security, 4,7 (2016).

[2] CITES, List of Contracting Parties, https://cites.org/eng/disc/parties/chronolo.php (last visited Jan. 14, 2021).

[3] Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Mar. 3, 1973, 27 U.S.T. 1087 [hereinafter CITES Mission].

[4] CITES, Wildlife Crime, https://cites.org/eng/prog/iccwc/crime.php (last visited Jan. 14, 2021).

[5] ICUN, Species Extinction – The Facts, 2 https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/import/downloads/species_extinction_05_2007.pdf (last visited Jan. 14, 2021).

[6] Id.

[7] CITES Mission, supra note 2 at art. III, app. I.

[8] Id.

[9] Annecoos Wiersema, Uncertainty, Precaution, and Adaptive Management in Wildlife Trade, 36 Mich. J. Int’l L. 375 (2015).

[10] Id.

[11] See Karen Z. Consalo, Fighting Back from the Brink: International Efforts to Prevent Illegal Trafficking in Endangered Species, 43 Environs 67, 105–09 (2020).  

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