Data gaps put more than 64,000 illegally traded wild animal at risk

Data gaps put more than 64,000 illegally traded wild animal at risk


The fate of over 64,000 live wild animals officially reported to have been confiscated by CITES enforcement agencies remains untraceable, according to a new report released in partnerships with the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).

Our new report, 'Tip of an iceberg', reveals that information about both seizure numbers and outcomes for the animals is severely lacking.

Between 2010 and 2014, more than 64,000 live wild animals were officially reported as seized by wildlife enforcement agencies according to the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) trade database.

Tip of the iceberg

The figure of 64,000 is likely to be a fraction of the true picture, as only one in three countries party to CITES provided information on live wildlife seizure numbers. We uncovered that two out of three countries did not report any seizures, despite poaching of endangered species to supply the illicit global wildlife trade estimated to be worth between $8-10 billion per year.

These shocking findings have prompted us to call for better reporting of seizures and the fate of confiscated live wild animals.

Difficult decisions

The study also highlights that the ultimate fate of seized live wild animals is unknown. Once animals have been confiscated, national authorities must decide whether to:

  • keep them in captivity,
  • return them to the wild,
  • or euthanize them.

​CITES provides guidelines to aid decision-making based on the conservation status and welfare needs of the animals. However, information about the fate of these wild animals is not a formal CITES requirement.

The figures have prompted calls for better reporting of seizures and what happens to confiscated live wild animals. Many wild animals could be re-entering the wildlife trafficking industry as they simply can’t be accounted for.

University of Oxford’s Professor David Macdonald, senior researcher for the study, said: “Only a relatively small proportion of wild animals involved with illegal trade are thought to be intercepted by enforcement agencies – confiscation records were completely missing for 70% of countries Party to CITES. Given the rapidly growing global trends in illegal wildlife trade activity, it is highly unlikely that no live wildlife seizures were made on their borders.

“The records that were provided show that around 20% of all live wild animals reported as seized are currently considered to be threatened by extinction. We strongly recommend that the CITES trade database should include information on the fate of all live wild animal seizures, so we know what happens to these animals, and we can reduce the risk of them re-entering the illegal wildlife trade.”

World Animal Protection’s Dr Neil D’Cruze, lead researcher for the study, said: “The illegal wildlife trade is a big, complex and dirty business. National authorities play a key role, facing some tough choices when they seize animals.

“Improved data recording is critical to knowing what happens to each animal, and can help in looking at the challenges and issues enforcement agencies face in managing animals after seizure. Without this transparency, there's a real possibility that endangered species may be put back into the hands of the same criminals whom they were taken from. We need to be able to account for these wild animals.”

What happens next?

The findings and recommendations of this research will be presented at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa on 27 September 2016 during a side event focused on the confiscation of live wild animals organised by the Species Survival Network (SSN). 

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