World Wildlife Day Spotlight: 5 Species Threatened by Wildlife Trade

It's not just tigers, rhinos and elephants; illegal wildlife trade threatens some of the world’s best-loved species. Around 30,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa in the past year for the illegal ivory market. In 2013, more than 1,000 rhinos fell to poachers in South Africa. And the greatest threat to the last of the world’s wild tigers is the high demand for their parts and products.

But the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade also impacts an array of other species.

To mark the first-ever World Wildlife Day, March 3, 2014, we take a look at how wildlife trade jeopardizes five more wild creatures. But with your help, we can tackle the problem to ensure their survival and the future of a healthy living planet.

1. Pangolins
One of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and, increasingly, Africa, pangolins are in high demand both for their meat and for their scales, which are used in traditional medicine—and as love charms. All eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws. Two are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Roughly 220,000 pangolins have been seized in trade since the year 2000 and that’s likely just a fraction of those illegally sourced to primarily Asian markets.


2. Parrots
At least 18 species of parrot are endangered or critically endangered at least in part by wildlife trade. Another 40 species are considered vulnerable. Among the most sought-after parrots are the “blue” macaws, prized for their brilliant coloring, large size, intelligence and rarity. The illegal trapping of the hyacinth macaw for a lucrative black market has caused its wild population to decline to fewer than 3,000. 

3. Freshwater Turtles
In 2011, freshwater turtle and tortoise experts announced that 80% of Asia’s freshwater turtle and tortoise species were at risk of global extinction. Used for food, pets, and in traditional medicines, freshwater turtles are collected and traded in enormous numbers. In 2002 alone, roughly 15,500 tons of Asian turtles were exported from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan. That’s roughly 28,300 turtles per day. Last year, 30 freshwater turtle and tortoise species were granted improved trade protection measures under CITES.


4. Arowana
Also known as Golden Dragon Fish (Scleropages formosus), this is perhaps the world's most desirable aquarium fish—despite the fact that international trade has been banned since 1975 and many nations restrict or prohibit possession. The mistaken belief that it brings luck, prosperity and peace to its owner has driven demand, particularly those from Asian cultures. In 2009, a traveler arriving from Vietnam was arrested in the US after Customs found two live Arowana fish concealed inside bottles of fish sauce in her luggage.


5. Bluefin Tuna
It’s the world’s most valuable fish mainly because of the increasing Japanese and worldwide demand for sushi and sashimi. Bluefin tuna is being fished out of existence to satisfy our taste buds. Today, all three species are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Driven by high prices—a single Bluefin tuna once sold for over $1.75 million—illegal and unstainable levels of fishing are causing a catastrophic decline of this top predator. Time is running out for one of nature’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring fishes.


Now that you’ve read this list, here’s what you can do: