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Illegal Trade in Wild Species Could Be $199 Billion Market: Report

Illegal Trade in Wild Species Could Be $199 Billion Market: Report

While highlighting the alarming decline of wild species, the latest IPBES report underscores the need for urgent adoption of sustainable practices, be it in fishing, logging, medicine, or tourism

Representative Image
Representative Image Shutterstock

Main article: Blinded by greed, human beings have literally dug their graves as their indiscriminate consumption gravely impacted the natural ecosystem over the years. Humanity’s overexploitation of wildlife for food, energy, income, or health and wellbeing has resulted in the decline of more than 50 thousand species. And what humans failed to do directly was done indirectly courtesy of climate change, which further accelerated the pressure on natural habitats, flora, fauna and animals.  

This reality is starkly underlined in the latest report on the ‘Sustainable Use of Wild Species’ by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). An international research and policy body akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for biodiversity, this report highlights some damning findings related to wildlife.  

It examines how humans benefit from wildlife—from fishing and logging to medicine and tourism—and how these activities can continue without endangering nature or contributing to global climate and biodiversity crises. 

A Planet For Everyone 

The report reveals that every 1 in 5 humans (about 1.6 billion people of the global population) rely on wild species for income and food. In contrast, one in three (2.4 billion) rely on fuel wood for cooking. More than 10,000 wild species are harvested directly for human food.  

Over the past four decades, global trade in wild species has expanded substantially in volume, value and trade networks. The document estimates that illegal trade in wild species is a $199 billion market and the third-largest class of all illicit trade.  

“70 per cent of the world’s poor is directly dependent on wild species. One in five people depend on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income. Another 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking. At the same time, about 90 per cent of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing,” said Marla R. Emery of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USA/Norway). She co-chaired the assessment with Jean-Marc Fromentin, a senior researcher from France and John Donaldson, head of the Biodiversity Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division of SANBI, South Africa.  

While the use of wild species has increased overall in the last 20 years, the report notes that one aspect that stood out was overexploitation, which has become extremely common. For instance, unsustainable logging threatens around 12 per cent of wild tree species, while unviable gathering poses considerable threats to several plant groups, notably cacti, cycads and orchids. Similarly, indiscriminate hunting affects the existence of nearly 1,341 wild mammal species.    

While elaborating on fishing, Fromentin claims that recent global estimates confirm that about 34 per cent of marine wild fish stocks are overfished, and 66 per cent are fished within biologically sustainable levels. But within this global picture, there are significant local and contextual variations.  

“Countries with robust fisheries management have seen stocks increasing in abundance. For instance, the Atlantic bluefin tuna population has been rebuilt and is now fished within sustainable levels,” he adds.  

Wild species are not used only for food and energy; they are equally vital in medicine, cosmetics, decoration and recreation. Fromentin highlights that for countries and regions with low-intensity fisheries management measures, the status of stocks is often poorly known but generally believed to be below the abundance that would maximise sustainable food production. “Many small-scale fisheries are unsustainable or only partially sustainable, especially in Africa for both inland and marine fisheries, and in Asia, Latin America and Europe for coastal fisheries,” he adds.  

The time for change is now  

The report identifies that land and seascape changes, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species are significant triggers for the impact on the abundance and distribution of wild species. This, in turn, can increase stress on the environment and challenges for the humans dependent on them.  

Underlining the importance of the report, Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of IPBES, states, “This Assessment was specifically requested by, among others, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It will inform decisions about trade in wild species at the 19th World Wildlife Conference in Panama in November.”  

Around 85 leading experts from the natural and social sciences and 200 contributing authors, drawing on more than 6,200 sources, have worked on the report. Its summary was approved last week by representatives of the 139 member States of IPBES in Bonn, Germany. 

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