Along with habitat destruction, wildlife crimes such as poaching currently pose the largest threat to the future of some of the world’s most endangered species.

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Enforcing the law

This is a difficult problem, especially when officials responsible for the enforcement don't take it seriously - and this happens all too often. Even CITES does not have a Law Enforcement Working Group. It is expensive to enforce a law and yet a law is useless unless it can be enforced. 

Smuggling i.e. illegal trading, is not easy to control. It is easier to stop a poverty-stricken poacher than a rich, influential business executive, or, worse still, a corrupt government official. It is also difficult for customs officers to identify protected species in a big shipment of animals and plants,  especially as they are often hidden or disguised. Recognising illegal products such as ivory is a difficult task, even for experts, who sometimes need to conduct forensic tests to tell ivory apart from realistic plastic copies. Plant species can also be hard for non experts to recognise, making it tricky to pick out illegal specimens from amongst a selection. 

Of all the hundreds of species of animals and plants involved in international trading laws, amongst some of the best known examples are: big cats; whales and elephants for their ivory; rhinos; bears; parrots and songbirds; apes; and rainforest plants.  International networks of smugglers work to move these illegal specimens across borders. Although it is nearly impossible to calculate how much money is made every year by trafficking endangered animals and their body parts, TRAFFIC, the worldwide network set up to monitor wildlife trade, estimates that it amounts to billions of dollars. In fact, being listed by CITES has been known to drive the market value of a species up, making it even more valuable to poachers.

Read More: Case History: Pangolins

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