Wildlife trade refers to the commerce of products derived from non domesticated animals or plants usually extracted from their natural environment or raised under controlled conditions. Whenever people sell or exchange wild animal and plant resources, this is wildlife trade. It can involve live animals and plants or all kinds of wild animal and plant product, including the trade of living or dead individuals, tissues such as skins, bones or meat, or other products. Legal wildlife trade is regulated by the CITES or the United Nations‘ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which currently has 170 member countries. Illegal wildlife trade, however, is widespread and constitutes one of the major illegal economic activities, in fact illegal wild trade is on a scale comparable to that of weapons and drugs.
When you think of the illegal wildlife trade, markets filled with poached rhino horns and elephant ivory might come to mind, but the commercial trade in illegal and rare plants is often overlooked. Rare plant species are being increasingly stolen from the wild and sold for their beauty or medicinal properties. Besides robbing the earth of its natural resources, this illegal trade deprives communities of livelihoods, and governments of income. The United States alone seizes around 5,600 illegally trafficked plants a year.
Here are some plants that make up the illegal plant trade:
Many species of rare orchids are disappearing from parks all over the US.Orchids are notoriously dainty plants, and they are likely to die if they are dug up. Sadly, this combination of the plant’s frailty and rarity makes them all the more valuable to potential buyers. The more rare a species is, the more money it rakes in to poachers. A thriving and illegal trade in Southeast Asia’s threatened and rare orchids is going largely unnoticed in Thailand and across its borders, says a joint study by TRAFFIC and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Plant enthusiasts widely prize these species for their beauty, fragrance, and/or rarity. Wild orchids—some threatened species—make up more than 80 percent of these plants traded at the markets. Amazingly, several of the plant species the researchers found in the markets are even new to science for example the Bulbophyllum anodon and the Thrixperumum sp.
A large number of Venus Flytrap are being harvested to near extinction in North Carolina. The carnivorous plants are attractive for their novelty factor, however they don’t bring the poacher a very high price. Venus Flytraps can take years to properly germinate and grow, which is what makes taking the fully grown plants more attractive to poachers who are just looking to turn a quick buck. Poachers often sell the plants for as low as twenty-five cents to dealers who then resell them for a paltry sum of up to ten dollars per plant.
A third of all cactus species are at risk of extinction due to illegal trade of the live plants and seeds for ornamental collections. Cacti are commonly used in ornamental horticulture, due to their beautiful blooms. Some species are also used in traditional medicine or for religious purposes. Researchers have found that over 85% of ornamental cacti on the market have been taken from the wild. It is believed that cactus smuggling rings are the third biggest money-making racket in Mexico behind drugs and guns. Rare species can be sold for over $10,000 for just a single plant.