Animal smuggling

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After habitat loss, animal smuggling is the biggest reason why the world's wildlife is in danger of extinction. A third of the world's wildlife is facing extinction and it is these endangered species that bring high prices on the black market in rare animals.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Professional trade in endangered wildlife and byproducts is a thriving business estimated at $10 billion a year. As the risk of getting caught is low animal poachers have plenty of room to move.
  • Profit margins are high. Many of these animals being taken from the wild are now worth more dead than alive. And to collectors, often the more endangered a species is, the more valuable it is on the black market.
  • There is also a thriving black market in live animals in the US. Much in demand are carved ivory, reptile skins, medicinal plants and illegally logged lumber. Anecdotal evidence indicates it largely is supplied by organized crime.

All about animal smuggling

Animal smuggling today is second only to drug smuggling as a major international illegal business. The animals are generally purchased from poor natives who, knowing nothing about the endangered status of such animals, sell them at throw-away prices.

A rare toucan (a tropical bird) purchased in Bolivia for $10, for instance, is worth $1,500 in the United States. A radiated tortoise, one of the rarest reptiles in the world, bought for 30 cents in Madagascar will sell on the black market for $10,000. An orangutan (a large, red-haired ape) that cost $200 in Indonesia will bring $50,000 on the illegal market.[1]

As customs officials have their eyes set on drug smugglers, chances of animal smugglers getting caught are very low. And even if smugglers are caught, the penalties are much less for smuggling endangered animals than they are for smuggling illegal drugs.

No official statistics

Tigers are also among the species targeted by animal smugglers. Though there are no official statistics on the prevalence of illegal animal trade and smuggling, according to officials from the World Wildlife Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sales from smuggling exotic animals or animal parts amount to billions, just behind illegal drug and firearm sales.

All kinds targetted

Smugglers can target any animal, not only those who are endangered. Officials from TRAFFIC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say trade of live reptiles, live birds — particularly parrots — caviar, mussels and all sorts of other animals and parts for traditional cultural medicine have been prevalent in recent years.

Often, certain exotic animals seen in movies and on television are targeted by traffickers. The animal's endangerment, its rarity, is a factor in its popularity in the animal trafficking circuit, but it is not the only factor.

Each year, up to five million wild birds are caught to be sold as pets around the world. Many of these wild birds aren't endangered, so they can be caught and sold without breaking the law. But even they are often treated badly. All in all, more than half of all captured birds die.


  • The global trade in smuggled wildlife is booming, with worldwide sales estimated to be anywhere from U.S. $10 billion to U.S. $20 billion.[2]
  • In the United States, the trade is the second largest black market after illegal drug traffic.[2]
  • Smugglers range from collectors looking to own an exotic pet to sophisticated crime rings drawn by potentially huge profits.[2]
  • The mark-up in this business is incredible.[2]
  • Sea turtle eggs used for soup are smuggled in by the hundreds of thousands from Central America. [2]

90 degrees

In tiger smuggling, no part of the animal gets wasted in this type of trade. Regarding people generally think of the hide, the skin. But there is a big market for gall bladders, the skulls, teeth and every part of the tiger. The Bengal and white tigers are worth more dead than alive in this market. [3]


  • Illegal entry: endangered animal smuggling is big business at U.S. ports
  • Black market animals
  • U.S. Smugglers Hot for Exotic Animal Parts


  1. BNET
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 National Geographic
  3. ABC News