Urban wildlife trafficking

From WikiAnimal
Live animals on sale at the Huanan seafood market
Live animals on sale at the Huanan seafood market. Poor welfare of animals on sale in Huanan seafood market: (a) King rat snake (Elaphe carinata), (b) Chinese bamboo rat (Rhizomys sinensis), (c) Amur hedgehog (Erinaceus amurensis) (the finger points to a tick), (d) Raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), (e) Marmot (Marmota himalayana) (beneath the marmots is a cage containing hedgehogs), and (f) Hog badger (Arctonyx albogularis).

Urban wildlife trafficking is a type of wildlife trafficking that takes place in urban settings such as wet markets where wildlife is sold.[1] Urban wildlife trafficking can pose serious threats to wildlife conservation, public health, and social stability. It can involve different types of actors, such as poachers, traffickers, sellers, and consumers, who may have different motivations, behaviors, and risks.[2]

Examples of urban wildlife trafficking

Urban wildlife trafficking can involve different species of animals that are targeted for different reasons and markets. Some examples of urban wildlife trafficking are:[2]

  • Pangolins: Pangolins are scaly mammals that are highly sought after for their meat and scales, which are used for traditional medicine and bushmeat in Africa and Asia. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world, with millions of individuals hunted annually in Central Africa. Pangolin scale trafficking is often associated with more organized and professionalized types of traffickers and sellers, while pangolin meat trafficking is more informal and opportunistic.
  • Great apes: Great apes, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, are endangered primates that are killed for their meat and sometimes for their body parts, such as hands or skulls. Great ape meat is often consumed locally for cultural or special occasions, such as weddings, births, or funerals. Great ape meat trafficking may involve trading charities or mutual societies as traffickers and opportunistic or casual sellers.
  • Dwarf crocodiles: Dwarf crocodiles are small crocodilians that are hunted for their meat and skin in Central Africa. Dwarf crocodiles are one of the least studied crocodilian species and their population status is unknown. Dwarf crocodile trafficking may involve opportunistic irregulars as traffickers and sellers, as they can survive for long periods without food and can be easily transported and stored.

Impacts and challenges of urban wildlife trafficking

Urban wildlife trafficking can have negative impacts on wildlife conservation, public health, and social stability. Some of the impacts and challenges of urban wildlife trafficking are:

  • Wildlife conservation: Urban wildlife trafficking can contribute to the decline of wildlife populations, especially of vulnerable or endangered species, such as pangolins, great apes, and dwarf crocodiles. Urban wildlife trafficking can also disrupt ecosystem functions and services, such as seed dispersal, pest control, or nutrient cycling.
  • Public health: Urban wildlife trafficking can pose risks to public health by increasing the exposure of humans to zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola, SARS-CoV-2, or anthrax, that can be transmitted by wild animals or their products. Urban wildlife trafficking can also affect food security and nutrition by reducing the availability of wildmeat for rural communities who rely on it as a protein source.
  • Social stability: Urban wildlife trafficking can undermine the rule of law and governance by facilitating corruption, violence, and organized crime. Urban wildlife trafficking can also affect the cultural and social values of wildmeat consumption by commodifying it for urban markets and consumers.

Types of urban wildlife traffickers and sellers


  • Trading charities: These are individuals or groups who traffic wildmeat for cultural, medicinal, or social purposes, such as celebrating a lifecycle event or rite of passage.[2] They profit from wildmeat sales, but the profit is secondary to the wildmeat’s role in the cultural event.[2]
  • Mutual societies: These are individuals with disposable income who enjoy collecting and sharing exotic and rare species as a hobby or a status symbol.[2] They may exchange or sell wildmeat among themselves in a reciprocal fashion and traffic specific species for specific purposes or connoisseurship.
  • Business sideliners: These are individuals or groups who operate legal commercial businesses and supplement their income by trafficking wildmeat.[2] They may use their legal business as a cover or a shell for their illegal wildmeat business, or sell wildmeat alongside other legal products.[2]
  • Criminal diversifiers: These are individuals or groups who are involved in other forms of organized crime, such as drug or human trafficking, and incorporate wildlife trafficking into their existing illicit supply chains.[2] They exploit profitable opportunities in trafficking wildlife and use their criminal connections and resources to facilitate the trade.[2]
  • Opportunistic irregulars: These are individuals or groups who take advantage of limited openings or chance encounters to traffic wildmeat. They are not likely to be involved in wildmeat trafficking over the long term and may lack criminal experience, resources, and connections.[2]


  • Casual sellers: These are individuals or groups who take advantage of single opportunities or chance encounters to sell wildmeat.[2] They may have acquired wildmeat by accident or through a connection with a friend or a family member.[2] They are not familiar with the best places to sell illegal wildmeat nor have a formal mechanism or infrastructure for doing so.[2]
  • Transient sellers: These are individuals or groups who engage in low frequency selling of wildmeat and do not often have large quantities or varied types of wildmeat at a single point in time.[2] They may not always be able to afford to buy wildmeat and then sell it for profit, nor do they necessarily have infrastructure to support their sales.
  • Opportunistic sellers: These are individuals or groups who commercialize wildmeat when the opportunity presents itself and may only sell what they are able to obtain at very low prices.[2] Wildmeat is a supplement to the regular commodities they sell, and they may only sell certain types of wildmeat because they don’t have the infrastructure or other means to sell different types of wildmeat.[2]
  • Hidden sellers: These are individuals or groups who sell wildmeat in a concealed or secretive manner, but are not necessarily organized crime groups.[2] They may sell endangered or rare species of wildmeat that require special contacts or arrangements.[2] Buyers have to know who hidden sellers are and how to reach them in order to gain access to wildmeat; this means hidden sellers have to have a known reputation.[2]
  • Professional sellers: These are individuals or groups who frequently sell wildmeat, perhaps many different species at a single time; they derive a large proportion of their income from selling wildmeat.[2] They may have a personal interest in traditions of wildmeat selling or have wildmeat-related connections to family.[2] They may also have the logistics and infrastructure to move large quantities of wildmeat across markets.

See also