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Legal and illegal markets


Parallel legal markets

In contrast to markets on which there is a complete prohibition, the trade in wildlife involves goods that can be legal or illegal, depending on when, where, and how they were acquired, transferred, or sold. Many wild animals and plants are traded legally around the world, with no apparent threat to their long-term survival. The legal trade in wildlife is a significant global industry, generating revenue for many national economies, creating jobs and generating income for many people worldwide. The legal and illegal wildlife trade share many characteristics: '[T]raders adapt to changing circumstances. They target new species when others become depleted, shift to new markets, or in the illegal trade develop new trafficking methods and routes to avoid detection' (Broad et al, 2012, p. 4).

What characterizes many trafficked species is a level of demand that is unsustainable for the populations of the species, leading to critically endangered populations. As discussed earlier, demand may come from centuries-old traditional uses, but can also stem from newly advertised uses. In addition, demand for wild species is often the product of growing wealth, either because more people can afford expensive products or because it can become a form of lavish consumption. The level of demand for these species adds an important dimension to questions about the role of trade in their conservation (Wiersema, 2016). For the most endangered species threatened by trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), outlined in the previous section, serves as the mechanism to regulate that trade.

Some national laws, however, run contrary to the preservation of threatened species. Instead, they are pivotal to stimulating demand, providing loopholes for abuse and the laundering of illegal products (EIA, 25 March 2015).

Example: Laundering: legal loopholes

In Lao PDR, although tigers, elephant, and rhinoceros are protected species under the Wildlife and Aquatic Law 2007, the same Act permits the possession and trade of second and subsequent generation captive species. This creates an opportunity for laundering illicit products whereby wild-sourced products may be mislabelled as products originating from captive-bred animals.

(EIA, 25 March 2015)

Example: Laundering: lack of enforcement

Lao PDR's Wildlife and Aquatic Law (2007) permits trade in bear bile, providing that commercial bear farms, or bears kept for household purposes, are registered with the Prime Minister's office and monitored by the Department of Forest Resource Management within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (Article 62). Additionally, the Law permits trade only from second generation stock and therefore, in Lao PDR, bear farms cannot operate legally if the bears are of direct wild origin. Research published in 2014 and 2018, however, found that all commercial bear facilities were operating illegally by trading in wild caught bears. Indeed, no facility appeared capable of breeding bears. Additionally, one facility was reportedly transporting bears internationally between China and Viet Nam in violation of CITES.

(Livingstone et al, 2018; Livingstone & Shepherd, 2015)

Example: Laundering: false declarations

Many reptiles are exported from Indonesia to the European Union (EU) under the auspices of paperwork claiming them to be captive-bred specimens. However, there are serious discrepancies between the numbers of reptiles exported to the EU that are declared as captive-bred, and the numbers of reptiles that purported breeding facilities in Indonesia are actually producing, or have the capacity to produce. These discrepancies suggest that reptile traders may be exporting wild-caught reptiles, along with the required paper work for captive-bred specimens, to the EU, under the guise of 'captive-bred'.

(Nijman & Shepherd, 2009)

Example: Stockpiles

Pangolins fall under China's wildlife utilization scheme, and between 2008 and 2013 the Government of China issued quotas of over 108 tonnes of pangolin scales, ostensibly from legal stockpiles, to designated hospitals and manufacturers of medicine for clinical and medicinal use. China reported on this scheme in 2014 but only in reference to the scales of one pangolin species and without any detail of measures to prevent the laundering of scales from poached pangolins.

(EIA, 25 March 2015)
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