The Wildlife Trade Permeates the Biological Tree of Life and Threatens Biodiversity – But Still Largely Remains a Mystery

Peacock Tarantula Spider

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Peacock tarantula spider Poecilotheria metallica Pocock 1899, from India, noted as Critically Endangered in IUCN Red List and traded as unique animal. Credit: Rick C. West

The wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar market that threatens biodiversity. Exploiting wildlife by offering it, their parts or their items is among the most successful activities worldwide. A group of scientists from the University of Helsinki highlights the significance of all significant taxonomic groups in the worldwide wildlife trade and requires action to complete our spaces in understanding. The group likewise notes 9 actions anybody can require to combat the unlawful wildlife trade.

Besides being a significant danger to biodiversity, the wildlife trade can be a reason for worldwide public health problems and numerous billions of dollars of financial damage around the globe from illness break outs, as may be the case for COVID-19. Despite its significant environmental and socio-economic value, no thorough analysis has actually been made from the worldwide patterns of the wildlife trade.

Blue Land Crab

Blue land crab Cardisoma guanhumi Latreille, 1828, from Atlantic area, not noted in IUCN Red List however threatened by overexploitation. Credit: Marco Antonio de Freitas

“The illegal wildlife trade often has connections with organized crime. Criminal groups involved in drug trafficking, fraud and other illegal businesses are also active in the wildlife trade along routes used for other types of illicit products, and can combine this with different illegal activities, such as trafficking animals and drugs,” mentions Caroline Fukushima, scientist at the Finnish Museum of Natural History (Luomus), University of Helsinki. Based on such issues, a group of scientists looked for to explain the value of all significant groups of organisms in the worldwide wildlife trade and required more research study on ignored groups. Their short article “Global wildlife trade permeates the Tree of Life” is now released in Biological Conservation.

“To us, it is evident that the phenomenon of the global wildlife trade is much more complex and widespread than previously acknowledged,” states Stefano Mammola, scientist at the Italian National Research Council, in addition to among the authors.

Penny Bum

Penny Bum Boletus edulis Bull., an edible wild mushroom gathered in big scale for the marketplace from outdoors and within Europe, noted as Least Concern in IUCN Red List. Credit: Jouko Rikkinen

“Even though the wildlife trade permeates all branches of the tree of life – from fungi to plants, from small marine species to big terrestrial mammals – more attention is given to the trade of a small selection of charismatic species, preventing the development of comprehensive and effective conservation strategies,” Mammola continues.

Even the smal­lest, ap­par­ently in­sig­ni­fic­ant or­gan­isms are traded

The research study group discovered that trade prevails amongst various organisms, from mushrooms to big vertebrates. Sea cucumbers, polyps and corals in specific have incredibly big percentages of threatened types being traded worldwide.

Additionally, when thinking about legal wildlife commerce on the worldwide scale, the wood trade is the most appropriate in financial worth, and plants became the most traded group in large varieties of people.

Ex­tens­ive information is required on the trade and its con­se­quences

Due to the obvious illegality of much of wildlife trafficking, it is difficult to obtain systematic and reliable data. For some groups such as invertebrates, the species listed in CITES or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are just the tip of the iceberg. The numbers of traded taxa in such databases are a gross underestimation of what is actually traded, as most species have never even been assessed for their relevance in the trade business.

“We are facing a biodiversity crisis. We need to be fast and effective in filling our gaps in knowledge, especially about non-vertebrate species. In this way, we can achieve a deep understanding of global trading patterns across the full canopy of the tree of life, and not just its most appealing twig,” says Pedro Cardoso, at the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

The future challenge for conservation biologists is now to map global trade across all living beings, know what drives such trade and find ways to fight traffic that might put both wildlife species and human health in danger. A major consequence of the widespread trade are disease outbreaks, as might be the case for the possible origin of COVID-19 from wildlife markets. It is urgent to take these matters seriously, as their effects reach far beyond wildlife types survival.

How you can help fight illegal wildlife trade:

  • Do your research and check the origin of wildlife products that you want to buy.
  • Don’t buy illegal exotic pets and get informed about the related legislation.
  • Report to the administrators of social media about illegal wildlife commerce on that platform.
  • Don’t share or like posts with wild animals treated as pets or as humans (wearing clothes, for example), performing for entertainment, or serving as tourist attractions.
  • Don’t buy live animals and plants, or souvenirs that contain parts of wildlife when traveling.
  • Don’t take pictures with wild animals displayed at local markets and don’t support businesses where they are unethically exploited.
  • Don’t use traditional medicinal products containing ingredients illegally or unsustainably obtained from endangered types.
  • Support NGOs and groups that fight wildlife trafficking (TRAFFIC, ACCO and numerous others).
  • Switch off geolocation apps prior to taking pictures of native wildlife in situ.

Reference: “Global wildlife trade permeates the Tree of Life” by Caroline Sayuri Fukushima, Stefano Mammola and Pedro Cardoso, 20 May 2020, Biological Conservation.
DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108503

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