Recently more than 10,000 endangered radiated tortoises were seized from poachers in Madagascar, but not all of them were physically saved. Hundreds of the animals died from illness and dehydration, proving once again that most animals just really shouldn’t be taken out of their habitat.
Experts believe the turtles were intended for the illegal pet trade in Asia. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again: animals are plucked from their natural environments for entertainment purposes, to sell as exotic pets, or to serve up in meals, or as cures for various ailments. And in more cases than not, it’s resulted in some magnificent creatures landing on the endangered list.
In that vein, here are 10 of the most trafficked animals in existence… for now anyway.
This ant- and termite-eating mammal is known for its scaly skin and its long, sticky tongue. When it’s threatened the pangolin can curl up into a tight ball, but that hasn’t stopped poachers from illegally rounding up the creatures to the point where they’re now considered the most trafficked animal in the world. Why? Their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat is in high demand.
Ten years ago poaching deaths of rhinos were about 13 animals per year in South Africa. Fast-forward to 2017 and that number is 1,028—an increase of 9,000 per cent. The animal’s horns remain in hot demand, especially in Asia where they’re used medicinally to supposedly cure everything from a hangover to cancer. That’s left both the black and white rhino at risk, despite conservationists’ best efforts.
Despite a ban on international ivory trade that’s been in place since 1990, these majestic creatures continue to be a hot ticket for traffickers thanks to their coveted tusks. It’s estimated that poachers kill roughly 30,000 elephants every year—a rate that will eliminate these guys in the not-to-distant future if it keeps up.
Travel to a country in Asia and odds are you could be sucked into visiting a tiger farm. But these animals aren’t just endangered from the tourist trade: reports have found the illegal trade in tiger claws, teeth, skin and other body parts is surging thanks to more than 200 such farms operating in these countries. While it’s estimated there are fewer than 4,000 tigers remaining in the wild, more than 1,755 tigers or parts of tigers have been seized since the year 2000. Considering the rate of seized animals is typically five per cent of the actual trade, that’s a concerning number indeed.
Of all the sea turtles, the hawksbill variety with its long, pointed beak is the most endangered thanks to current fishing practices and trafficking. Poachers throughout the tropics covet the animal for its brown-and-yellow carapace plates, which are transformed into tortoiseshell jewellery and ornaments. If you see some for sale, you might want to reconsider your purchase.
Considered a pet status symbol, especially in the Middle East, orangutangs have inspired a multimillion-dollar illegal trade market. Nowadays, poachers in Borneo, Sumatra and Thailand will rip the easier-to-handle baby orangutans—which share 97 per cent DNA with humans—from their mothers in order to meet the high demand.
Although these antelope-like mammals live in hard-to-access places like steep mountains, hills and ridges, they remain a hot commodity with poachers who snatch them for their meat and the supposed medicinal qualities of their body parts. Sadly, because few people have actually even heard of these animals, they also receive very little attention from conversationalists, say experts.
The unique, Southeast Asian bird features a casque, or a helmet-like structure on its bill (hence the name) that’s made of solid keratin. That makes it a popular ivory alternative for poachers looking to sell it to carvers and jewellery makers. It’s such a growing market that in the space of three years the International Union for Conservation upgraded the animal from “near threatened” to “critically endangered.”
These large, wild oxen live in India and Malaysia, and are currently the largest species of bovine on the planet. That makes them valuable to poachers that can sell their meat for inflated prices. These animals are extremely protected as they’ve been listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List since 1986. Sadly, that hasn’t stopped poachers from killing the animals in recent years.
These creatures have strikingly beautiful pelts, which makes them an automatic target for poachers everywhere. Indeed, experts estimate that at least four snow leopards are killed each week—a number that could certainly be higher give the estimate is only based on the trafficking they know about. They say a leopard never changes his spots… but here’s hoping traffickers will in the near future.