International Conservation
Reef Shark, © Ed Gullekson

The Perils of the International Wildlife Trade

American demand for wild animals and their parts is one of the most serious threats to species worldwide. From 2000 to 2004, the United States imported more than a billion live wild animals, many from endangered species.

Imports of wild plants are estimated to be as much as ten times that amount. There are two main consequences to this huge demand: a surge in illegal trafficking that is devastating wild species around the world, and the introduction of exotic invasive species that destroy native species and entire ecosystems within the United States.

Threatening Species’ Survival

The annual dollar value of illegal trade is somewhere between $5-$20 billion—so large that Interpol estimates it is the third largest illegal trade by dollar value after drugs and guns. The demand includes purchasing exotic species as pets (e.g., colorful parrots, giant snakes), using their parts for food and medicinal purposes (e.g., shark fins, frog legs, rhinoceros horns, etc.), and collecting trophies (e.g., lion skins).

When international trade goes unchecked, overexploitation occurs, driving species into near extinction. Hundreds of species like sea turtles, parrots, sharks, and elephants have already suffered enormous population declines because of illegal trade.

Importation of Invasive Species

Between 2000-2004, Americans imported more than 300 invasive species from foreign countries, such as Burmese pythons, monk parakeets and Gambian pouch rats. The Convention on Biological Diversity estimates that invasive species are the second most important factor resulting in the extinction of species, after habitat destruction. The damage these invasives do costs the U.S. more than $130 billion a year.

More on International Conservation: The Importance of CITES »

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