Endangered Species Handbook

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Trade

Introduction

     Trade in live animals, plants and the product made from them threatens many species with extinction.  Approximately 15 percent of highly threatened mammals and birds have declined as a result of trade (Hilton-Taylor 2000). Internationally, billions of dollars are earned legally and illegally, and each year, more species become exploited.  In a classic pattern, wildlife and plants are captured or extracted from their natural environments until they become rare.  This rarity adds to their value, and in many cases, such as exotic cage birds, live reptiles and amphibians, and rare plants, for example, the rarer they become, the more they are sought after, increasing their value.  Much of this trade is for luxury products or to supply collectors who have a desire to own rare birds, frogs, lizards, turtles or snakes, with no regard as to the effect on wild populations.  For others, such as snakes and lizards killed for their skins to be made into exotic leather products, or whales slaughtered for their meat, one species is exploited until it becomes commercially extinct, and then non-endangered species are exploited until these, too, become endangered.  Some animal products, such as ivory, are as valuable as gold, threatening elephants, among the most intelligent of all animals.  Fisheries for expensive gourmet items, such as caviar, have endangered all Eurasian sturgeon.  A majority of fish and shellfish species have been overfished to depleted status.
 
     The fur trade has endangered many species and continues to use the skins of rare cats and canids.  A major market for plants and animals to supply the Traditional Medicine (TM) trade has devastated Tigers, rhinoceros and hundreds of species, in spite of laws protecting these species.  For the majority of species exploited for this trade, substitutes exist or they are not effective remedies.  National and international laws and treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)*, have had major effects on trade in endangered and threatened species, but the illegal trade continues to flourish, worth an estimated $3 billion a year in protected live animals and animal products.  Ecological systems worldwide are being disrupted by the removal of predators and other keystone species, causing a loss of biodiversity.
 
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*CITES is discussed in detail in the Legislation section and reproduced in the Appendix.
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     The methods used to capture and kill animals for the wildlife trade are often cruel in the extreme.  Steel jaw leghold traps and wire neck snares, which cause great pain and injury, produce pelts for "fun furs."  Whales die from exploding harpoons thrust into their heads and bodies.  Frightened live animals are crowded into cramped, dirty cages and transported to pet shops and laboratories, suffering high mortality along the way.  Man's inhumanity to animals reaches an extreme in the wild animal trade.


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    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute