World Wildlife Day 2023: Extensive evidence on how brutal wildlife trade and trafficking is for the animals involved

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“The evidence on how brutal wildlife trade and trafficking can be for the animals involved is extensive. Rhinos keen when they have been illegally shot so their horns can be cut off, their children have their spines cut with a machete or are taken captive. Snakes are pumped full of water and starved for days before being skinned alive for the legal reptile leather industry. Birds have their eyelids sown shut and are then stuffed into tubes to be smuggled across long distances, involving days without food and water. Wildlife are left in snares and traps to die slowly from exposure, dehydration, and/or starvation.” *

Billions of wildlife, from the entire range of species, are killed and captured every year as part of the global legal and illegal wildlife trades.

Estimated to be one of the largest global black markets, the illegal wildlife trade involves the capture, harvesting and trade of wild animals and plants contrary to national laws. Illegal trade devastates biodiversity, increases the transmission of zoonotic diseases (e.g., COVID-19) and negatively impacts the lives and livelihoods of those people living with and near the wildlife.

Importantly, it is essential we also acknowledge animals as victims of welfare violations in the legal trade and as victims of trafficking. We should also recognise the capacity of wildlife to suffer harms such as deprivation of freedom, natural behaviours, and associations, and that by improving welfare, we are improving human lives. In doing so, species justice is possible, if combined with effective regulation and enforcement which provides individual and systemic protection for all animals.

* Wyatt, T., Maher, J., Allen, D. et al. The welfare of wildlife: an interdisciplinary analysis of harm in the legal and illegal wildlife trades and possible ways forward. Crime Law Soc Change 77, 69–89 (2022).

About Dr Jenny Maher

Dr Jenny_Maher CriminologyDr Jennifer Maher, Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of South Wales, specialises in researching environmental crime, human-animal studies and interpersonal youth violence and victimisation. She has published widely on animal abuse, the illegal pet trades and wildlife crime, by attracting funding for her research from the UNODC, European Commission, European Parliament, Scottish and UK Governments, South Wales Police and the RSPCA. Her expertise is sought nationally and internationally, including completing the UN ICCWC Toolkit review of the UK response to Wildlife and Forest Crime, Welsh Government evaluation of the Wildlife and Rural Crime Coordinator role and Scottish Government Scoping of the UK Illegal Puppy Trade.