11 Mar 2021
Legal wildlife trade – ten times bigger than the illegal trade, and doing massive damage to biodiversity
Legal Market in Whale Meat and Live Primates Worth Hundreds of Millions of US Dollars
The illegal wildlife trade, estimated at about 23 billion US dollars per year, has been covered extensively in the media. Legal wildlife trade has received much less attention, but in her 2020 research, Astrid Andersson from Research Division for Ecology and Biodiversity of the School of Biological Sciences showed that the legal wildlife trade was worth almost ten times more than the illegal trade – over 200 billion US dollars per year.
Andersson analysed customs’ data from 1997 to 2016, from 201 countries. Her results showed that the legal wildlife trade has been over-exploiting nature on a colossal scale, removing millions upon millions of animals, from whales to sea horses, from the world’s ecosystems. In addition, the outdated bureaucracy leaves the legal trade wide open for criminals to launder and hide vast quantities of illegal trade.
The numbers are staggering. For example, 247 million dollars’ worth of whale, manatee, seal and dolphin meat was sold, absolutely legally, between 1997 and 2016. Yet, unlike the illegal wildlife trade, the legal trade is continuing almost unnoticed and largely unmonitored.
The customs information that Andersson analysed, is catalogued according to the internationally established categories of wildlife products, and each category is represented by its own customs code. The codes, what they represent, and the amounts of money involved, all make for a very unnerving reading.
“Meat and Offal of Primates”(code 20830) was worth almost 11 million US dollars, but “Live Primates” (code 10611) dwarfed that - 3 billion dollars’ worth of live monkeys, apes and lemurs were bought and sold in 20 years.
Trade in “Live Birds of Prey” was worth 333 million, “Live Parrots” - 777 million. “Live Reptiles” - for pet trade, was worth 1,9 billion dollars. “Reptile Meat” – mainly turtles and snakes - 73 million.
Just like with the illegal wildlife trade, where Hong Kong is a global hub, the city punches well above its weight in the legal trade too – here Hong Kong SAR is ranked 8th globally, behind the USA, China, Japan, Spain, France, Thailand and Germany, countries with far larger economies and populations.
Andersson categorised legal wildlife trade into categories – wild meat, furniture, pet trade, seafood, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and fashion.
Hong Kong turned out to the world leader in the fashion category - import and export of animal furs and skins of crocodiles and snakes. For TCM, the city is ranked second, behind only Mainland China.
Andersson says: “I don’t think the distinction between legal and illegal trade is that relevant. The two are intertwined, and the legal trade provides an avenue for illegal wildlife to be laundered. And, just because it is called legal, it does not mean it is harmless – the legal trade needs to be monitored, and very closely.”
Article by Dr Pavel Toropov from Research Division of Ecology and Biodiversity and School of Biological Sciences
|Squirrel monkeys on sale - the legal trade in live primates is very lucrative (Photo Credit: Michelle Garforth Venter)||Wildcaught song birds on sale in Hong Kong (Photo Credit: Astrid Andresson)|
|Venomous species of reptiles can also be traded legally. Here a highly venomous rattlesnake is on sale in Germany (Photo Credit: Handout)||Whale meat - the legal trade in the meat of whales and seals is worth millions of dollars (Photo Credit: Robert Bahn)|
|Astrid Andersson at her desk - she has just defended her PhD thesis on the trade in cockatoos (Photo Credit: Alex Reshikov)|
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