Wildlife trade

Wildlife trade

#Act for the Wild, #Conservation, #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 21st February 2020 by Media Relations

Some 900,000 pangolins trafficked globally with significant proportions linked to Southeast Asia, over 200 tonnes of African Elephant ivory and 100,000 Pig-nosed Turtles seized in recent years: the scale of wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia is incredible and a renewed game plan is needed to combat it, says a new report released 20 February by TRAFFIC.

In assessing the trafficking and illegal wildlife trade from the turn of the century, Southeast Asia: At the heart of wildlife trade shows just how persistent the problem has been.

Authors also noted that the statistics, though remarkable, comprised only seizures and was just a fraction of the true magnitude of illegal wildlife trade in the region.

Species under threat

The study recognised and analysed thousands of successful seizures across 10 countries in Southeast Asia (the ASEAN countries) in recent years, focusing on some of the most traded groups of terrestrial animals. It revealed, among others:

•The seizure of about 225,000 kg of African Elephant ivory implicating Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam over the period 2008–2019.

•The trafficking of an estimated 895,000 pangolins from 2000–2019, while over 96,000 kg of pangolin scales mostly of African species were seized from 2017–2019 across Malaysia, Singapore, and Viet Nam, representing about 94% of the total quantity of scales confiscated in Southeast Asia during this period.

•Over 6,000 Indian Star Tortoises – originating from South Asia – seized in just 10 incidents in 2017 alone, with all of them heading to either Malaysia, Thailand or Singapore.

• Over 3,800 bear equivalents seized in Asia, implicating almost all Southeast Asian countries, from 2000–2016.

Populations of all the species studied are known to have been impacted by the ongoing and relentless trafficking.

Contributing causes

The study highlights the region’s major issues that continue to allow illegal trade to thrive including the existence of organised criminal networks moving wildlife contraband, poor conviction rates, inadequate laws, and poor regulation of markets and retail outlets. Many of the latter have continued openly selling illicit wildlife despite years of evidence detailing the magnitude of the illegal trade.

Wildlife cybercrime, as well as challenges that have persisted over time such as pervasive corruption, a lack of political will and continued consumer demand for wildlife, were also examined in the report.

The study also profiled the 10 Southeast Asian countries, summarising pressing local circumstances that enable illegal and unsustainable trade. The profiles propose a range of solutions to counter challenges to reduce the prevalence of illegal trade coming to or through the region.

“This body of work reinforces the position and significance of Southeast Asia’s footprint on biodiversity use and management,” said Monica Zavagli, Senior Officer for the Wildlife TRAPS Project. “Some positive changes have taken place in just the last couple of years – this momentum must be built upon,” said Zavagli.

Taronga's efforts to combat trade

Taronga is working with the University of New South Wales to develop forensic tools to combat illegal wildlife trade in both Australia and Southeast Asia, reflecting our commitment to legacy species in both regions. In Southeast Asia Taronga’s work is focussed in Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines.

Taronga is committed to improving the nutrition of rescued pangolins. Taronga provides expertise and developed an artificial diet for pangolins that has been trialled with success at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW). The live food diet currently fed to pangolins is expensive, often in short supply and has been suspected as a vector for disease in rescued pangolins at SVW. The Taronga diet will reduce their dependence on live food and the associated risks.

In May, a Taronga Nutrition Officer will be volunteering at  SVW’s Cuc Phuong rescue centre on a Taronga Foundation Fellowship. She will be performing digestibility trials on the new diet and collecting samples from Sunda and Chinese pangolin to bring back to Taronga for use in developing a forensic tool to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Illegal wildlife trade does not discriminate. Wildlife is illegally poached and traded across mammal, bird and reptile groups, with estimates suggesting at least one animal is being poached or killed for parts every five minutes across the globe.

Taronga has partnered with local conservation groups Katala Foundation Inc. and SVW to focus on developing tools for the most heavily laundered groups through Southeast Asia: Pangolins, Freshwater Turtles and birds such as the critically endangered red-vented cockatoo.

To date Taronga has collected over 400 samples from target species in the field and through access to the unique animals we have at Taronga. Over half these samples have been analysed using micro x-ray technology to identify elements stored in the feathers, scales and shells that are specific to where an animal has come from. The team have found key discriminating signatures in shells of Freshwater turtles, feathers of Cockatoos and scales of Pangolin, and will use machine learning to turn the results into a useable forensic tool by authorities on the ground.

What you can do

Ready to end the illegal wildlife trade? Here's what you can do:

  • Download Taronga's Wildlife Witness app next time you are travelling to Southeast Asia. If you see something, take a photo pinning the location of the incident.
  • Make sure you know the facts before buying animal products or parts and help to reduce the demand by simply saying no.
  • Be a responsible tourist. Support genuine eco-tourism as it provides income for local communities reducing their reliance on other activities that negatively impact wildlife or habitats.


To find out more about Taronga's work to prevent illegal wildlife trade, visit our website.

The complete version of TRAFFIC's latest report can be found here

*Image supplied by Save Vietnam's Wildlife