Trade in Endangered Species

The international commercial exchange of wildlife and animal by-products has been an essential component of human economic activities for over a millennium. International trade in sandalwood oil, for example, dates to before the twelfth century (Roe et al. 2002). Today, trading encompasses a wide variety of live flora and fauna for the horticultural and pet industry, as well as a diverse range of animal and plant products used by humans (Sand 1997). Due to increasing global income, travel, and tourism, demand for wildlife and derivative products only continues to increase. The trade demand is diverse, including food products, leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, and medicines. There is increasing demand for rare and endangered species, and continued trade amplifies the likelihood of their extinction. Illegal trade in endangered species occurs when the profits of poaching and selling the animals exceed the costs such as fines and imprisonment.

Ecological Consequences

Exploitation of wildlife resources is of concern for economic, social, environmental and ethical reasons. Countries that participate in this trade tend to be some of the world’s poorest countries, yet richest in biodiversity. For these countries, exports of endangered species and subsequent products represent a significant supply of foreign currency revenue (Sand 1997). Trade presents both an opportunity and a threat. A high proportion of the world’s population is directly dependent on wildlife for consumption, as well as for a source of income. From an ecological standpoint, population depletion and species extinction threatens biodiversity. Repercussions extend beyond the endangered species, as many of the animals and plants exposed by international trade act as “umbrella” or “keystone” species in their respective habitats (National Wildlife Federation 2007). Furthermore, given the complexity of environmental systems on the micro and macro levels, removal of a species from the system may have both unforeseeable and undesirable consequences.

Global Concerns

Trade in endangered species is a global issue. As globalization continues to increase, so do efforts to end trade in endangered species. An international treaty was created to unite nations in an effort to reduce the exploitation of wildlife. This commitment, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is the regulatory international treaty signed in 1963 at a meeting of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). CITES’ mandate is to regulate trade of endangered species and their by-products in order to protect threatened ecosystems (CITES 2007).


Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. (accessed 04 February 2007).

Favre, David S., Review Author Chopra, Sudhir K., International Trade in Endangered Species: A Guide to CITES, American Journal of International Law, 87.3, 491-493, July 1993.

National Wildlife Federation. (accessed 05 February 2007).

Roe, Dilys, and Teresa Mulliken, Making a Killing or Making a Living?, Biodiversities and Livelihoods Issues, 06, 10-20, 2002.

Sand, Peter H., Commodity or Taboo? International Regulation of Trade in Endangered Species, Yearbook of International Co-operation on Environment and Development, 06, 19-36, 1997.

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