Reflecting on wildlife trade research

by Dan Challender, Friday 6th August 2021

Originally posted on the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science

Overexploitation is a major threat to biodiversity. It threatens many species and one of the reasons I got into conservation science was to help solve this problem. I conduct research on pangolins, which are threatened by trade-driven harvest, and I have seen first-hand pangolins being killed in restaurants so I am acutely aware of what wildlife trade can entail. To me such events also signify how much remains unknown about wildlife trade, including consumer tastes and preferences for many species, and the size and structure of markets for wildlife products, and what particular characteristics might mean for conservation interventions to ensure that where trade occurs it is ecologically sustainable. Thankfully, there has been an increase in research on wildlife trade in the last decade that is helping to fill these knowledge gaps. I expect this will continue in the future, especially given purported links between wildlife trade and the emergence of COVID-19.

Sunda pangolin Manis javanica which is threatened by overexploitation. (c) Dan Challender/Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

In this context, accurately characterising wildlife use and trade, including whether it poses a threat to species—and if so the severity of the threat—is important to informing conservation actions and policy at various scales. In an article published this week in Conservation Letters, I and a group of co-authors discuss three issues that we identified in recent publications on wildlife trade. These involve mischaracterising wildlife trade and the threat that it may pose to species, and misrepresenting policy instruments and how they work. As an example, one of the papers we highlight misinterpreted data from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and assumed that species in trade are thereby “threatened by trade”. Other studies concluded that species are likely negatively affected by trade when there is a lack of evidence that this is the case.

This is concerning because such research may inform the adoption of policies which restrict trade in particular species despite it not being a threat to them. Such policies may also reduce or remove benefits to people along wildlife supply chains and undermine the contribution that particular markets make to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, equally concerning would be research that overlooks the potential detrimental impact of harvest and use on species where it does a pose a threat to species. Based on this we call for researchers to take great care when analysing and interpreting data on wildlife use and trade and making associated conservation recommendations. For example, we suggest that researchers pay particular attention to the language they use and consult the resources available that accompany wildlife trade-related databases and/or consult with database managers or other experts to ensure that data are being interpreted in the correct manner when conducting analysis. We also make related recommendations for journal editors, database managers, policymakers and civil society organisations.

Reticulated python Malayopython reticulatus which can be traded in large volumes without trade posing a threat to the survival of the species in the wild. (c) Dan Natusch

I expect that the article may frustrate some researchers—and I have therefore been apprehensive about it being published—but the motivation for the article was not to openly criticise other researchers who work on wildlife trade. Rather, my co-authors and I are genuinely concerned that research which mischaracterises wildlife trade could inadvertently result in measures that do more harm than good for biodiversity conservation and people who benefit from wildlife trade, many of which may have few alternative livelihood options. The reality is that wildlife trade research can be challenging because it often involves complex datasets while at the same time, we often lack data on many species (e.g., population parameters), which makes evaluating the impact of harvest and trade difficult. I suspect that most researchers have probably made—or will at some point in their careers make—mistakes in their research. I know I have. I am hopeful that our article will help nudge things in the right direction for wildlife trade research. I also hope it will not lead to distracting arguments which so often characterize the wildlife trade discourse, for example the simplification of issues to anti-trade vs. pro-trade perspectives, which does not reflect the reality or complexity of wildlife trade.

The conservation of biodiversity requires robust science to underpin policies and interventions, which requires high-quality research and more collaboration, rather than conflict, between researchers. I’m confident that I speak for my co-authors as well when I say that we are ready and eager to collaborate to meet this challenge regarding wildlife trade research.               

Read the article discussed here:

On the IWT horizon: Reshaping Africa’s role of wildlife trade and its relationship between economic systems and nature

Andrea Athanas

Two years and a lifetime ago when we embarked as a community on a horizon scan process to identify possible game changing issues that would shape tomorrow’s decisions on illegal wildlife trade (IWT), Africa was growing at 3-5% annually and the continent’s leaders had just signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, setting out a path for free movement of goods and people across the 54 nations of Africa. Africa’s development path and the extent to which wildlife is accounted for in its plans was identified as one of the top 20 emerging issues prioritised through the horizon scan process deemed to significantly affect the future of IWT.

Horizon scan issue no. 7: Managing wildlife trade in the context of Africa’s economic growth policies. Illustration Credit: Sofiya Shukhova

Covid-19 has transformed how we, humanity, live on this planet. In a matter of weeks our transport, trade and health systems has been radically altered in a desperate attempt to halt the spread of a pathogen that likely originated in the wild and spread through contact between species. As a result, the rules, customs and systems around wildlife trade are changing. How they change and who has a say in how they change matters.

Africa’s strategic growth plans to open up the continent are now on hold and the April 2020 International Monetary Fund projections place Africa’s growth rate at a record low of 1.6%[1]. Field reports from colleagues from DRC to Zimbabwe express rising food and fuel prices[2] and increasing insecurity. A situation also experienced in urban centers. According to the World Bank, agriculture production across the continent may decline by as much as 7% due to supply disruptions. This coupled with this year’s infestations of locusts and flooding events across parts of the continent is creating serious concerns about food insecurity. Tourism, once a cornerstone of funding for wildlife conservation, has ceased overnight. The sector is facing an unprecedented crisis which has ripple effects in protected areas, conservancies and communities dependent on revenues for operations.

Contemplating Africa’s future. Photo Credit: AWF Andrea Athanas

The current global economic meltdown has put a fork in the road for future progress of many African countries – providing a moment of pause before moving forward in one or another direction. How Africa’s leaders respond to the current crisis will shape Africa’s development for decades to come. There is a possibility this decision point will be used to transition into a system that is more inclusive, green and restorative, but equally the opposite could be true. In our horizon scan paper (see Supplementary Material Appendices 2 & 3 in particular) we posited that future African free trade presents opportunities to combat IWT by providing stronger governance over trade, systemised border crossings and cross-border law enforcement collaboration. Together as a global community we should concentrate efforts to enhance the management and coordination of wildlife trade while also investing in sustainable rural jobs that provide legitimate economic opportunities for rural youth. These approaches will incentivise communities to combat IWT while at the same time ensuring that wildlife products are managed through robust rules and institutions embedded in Africa’s growth strategies, investment plans and trade agreements. Covid-19 has made it clear that strong and effective governance over trade, systemised border crossings and cross-border law enforcement are not just requirements for vibrant, resilient economies, but also essential for protecting public health and wellbeing in the age of global pandemics.

Navigating the challenges of finding space for wildlife in Africa’s development road ahead. Photo Credit: AWF Peter Chira.

The role of wildlife trade and the relationship between economic systems and nature is continuously being redefined, even on a personal individual level for many. Africa needs to play a central role in reshaping these relationships and global agreements have an important place in creating a more robust framework for managing risks and creating incentives for green growth opportunities. While historically the tendency in global dialogues has been for a few dominant perspectives to dictate conditions on such issues, there is a growing effort to meaningfully engaging a wider set of stakeholders to address interconnected transcontinental challenges.

As African leaders and youth assert their ownership over development pathways, Africans will choose their own development path. As we begin to think about how to recover from this pandemic, it is more important than ever that we deepen and broaden our partnerships, jointly define solutions, and strengthen our collective capacity to address challenges we will face, together.

This is a part of the On the IWT horizon series for proactive engagement with wildlife trade issues in an unsettled world.

Read the full paper in Conservation Letters, Emerging illegal wildlife trade issues: A global horizon scan.


With thanks to Nafeesa Esmail for her leadership throughout the Horizon Scan process and thoughtful review of the piece, to Catherine Workman and Zara Bending for their helpful inputs, and to Kaddu Sebunya for his vision and tireless advocacy for African voices for wildlife and wild lands.


[1] 2020. IMF. Regional economic outlook. Sub-Saharan Africa: COVID-19: an unprecedented threat to development. Washington, DC. ISBN 9781513536835

[2] Despite fuel price drops elsewhere due to over supply and falling demand, in remote areas where AWF operates the case is different, with fuel prices rising perhaps because of challenges to do with supply chains.



On the IWT horizon: Haiwei—Identifying the connection between a global demand for dried seafood and marine conservation

By Jack Lam


The largest ever dried shark fin seizures were made by Hong Kong authorities earlier this month in May 2020; the combined volumes of the two shipments from Ecuador more than doubled last year’s total volume. However, sharks are not the only marine wildlife trafficked transnationally. The persistent demand for their fins is but one side of a multi-dimensional global trade network of Haiwei.

Culturally significant

The Chinese phrase Haiwei (海味) translates literally to “sea flavours,” and refers specifically to edible seafood products that have been preserved by dehydration. Although the consumption of dried seafood is widely documented throughout Asia and the rest of the world, here the term Haiwei is used to establish the identity of a specific culture of consumption and trade in dried seafood. Such a distinction is necessary because evidence is increasingly supporting that, if left unregulated, Haiwei represents a significant threat not only to the few targeted, endangered marine wildlife, but also to marine resources and ecosystems worldwide.

While the use of the phrase in literature dates as far back as the Southern Qi period (479-502AD), and its consumption has been documented across China throughout history, the current Haiwei culture is more commonly associated with Chaozhou, Shantou, Hong Kong, and other cities along China’s Southern and South-eastern coasts where historic connections to fisheries are part of cultural heritage and identity. Haiwei products are consumed for both culinary and medicinal values, and are generally considered tonic foods consumed for their alleged effectiveness in, for example, anti-aging, libido-aiding, miscarriage prevention, and haemorrhage healing.

Haiwei store in Hong Kong

Haiwei store in Hong Kong. Photo Credit: J. Lam

Connecting Haiwei to conservation

The term Haiwei is not widely known to the conservation community, but conservation issues directly linked to Haiwei trade and consumption have made international headlines over the past two decades. Examples include unsustainable fishing practices of shark-finning, transnational trafficking of abalone, overexploitation of sea cucumber, and the imminent extinction faced by the vaquitas as a result of illegal fishing of the totoaba for their maws (dried swim bladders). These are all “top-of-the-range” products in the Haiwei culture known colloquially as bào shēn chì dù (鲍参翅肚—abalone, sea cucumber, shark fin, and fish maw), a phrase that has become a Chinese idiom for extravagance. At the luxury end of trade, the per-gram prices of Haiwei products are comparable to that of rhino horn and elephant ivory, and similarly considered as investment assets.

The prevalence and impact of Haiwei extend beyond political borders, and the conservation implications of Haiwei is not limited to just a few taxa. Genetic analyses and official trade statistics on fish maws in retail markets of Hong Kong and Guangzhou have identified a global trade network of over 110 countries, and a growing connection with Central American, South American, and African suppliers.

Despite an increasing awareness of, and effort to address Haiwei in marine conservation, available literature provides only a glimpse to the bigger picture. This is in part due to the scale and complexity of the Haiwei culture, where an array of marine animal parts is extensively diversified to fulfil market niches. For example, fish maws are differentiated from low-value to expensive varieties. At the high-end of the market, trade literature identifies up to 66 genera under the Sciaenidae family as “prized fish maw varieties”, yet their trade names and their sources remain unclear. This disconnect between trade knowledge and conservation knowledge implies an absence of baseline data on which to form policy and management decisions. The conservation implications of such knowledge gaps are a cause for concern. Decisions to suppress the trade of one maw variety could perceivably fuel the demand in another to fill vacant market niches. This is especially alarming considering only one species (the totoaba, Totoaba macdonaldi) of the 66 named sciaenid genera is listed under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Similar complex market structures have been reported for shark fins, mobulid gills, seahorses, and sea cucumbers.


Horizon scan issue no. 10: Rapidly expanding demand for a global supply of Haiwei to China and Chinese communities worldwide. Illustration Credit: Sofiya Shukhovaa

Providing context for proactive conservation

Awareness of the Haiwei trade has increased since it was identified as an emerging IWT issue in 2018 as part of the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Horizon Scan. Simultaneously, Haiwei-related conservation issues have been increasingly addressed at a policy level. At the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (Geneva, 2019), two sharks and one sea cucumber—all of which are known to be harvested for the Haiwei trade—were listed under CITES Appendix II to increase trade regulations. Efforts to facilitate international cooperation to address seahorse and totoaba trafficking were also renewed. However, the overexploitation of marine wildlife for the Haiwei trade continues to decimate global biodiversity.

Our IWT horizon scan prioritised this topic as one of the top emerging issues, demonstrating the importance of addressing these knowledge gaps and the trade-conservation disconnect of marine taxa and marine ecosystems in the context of Haiwei culture. Without doing so, significant challenges to marine conservation and resource management will only continue. Although greater market research and genetic studies are beginning to bridge these gaps, the misalignment between trade and conservation knowledge persists due to a combination of cultural and language barriers, on-going product diversification and shifting trade dynamics, underpinned by the difficulties of studying and sampling high-priced, rare, and illegal products.

Greater proactive efforts are necessary to address and understand Haiwei as a conservation issue. Specific approaches proposed in the IWT Horizon Scan project (see Supplementary Material Appendix 3) include reviewing and analysing global dried seafood trade data to assess the extent and impact of trade, conducting market surveys as well as genetic studies along trade chains to supplement global trade data and maintain conservation awareness. With a better understanding of Haiwei, efforts can be made to optimise behaviour change campaigns, develop sustainable harvesting and consumption guidelines to curb overexploitation, inform enforcement agencies to assist in the implementation of trade regulations, and address policy gaps and loopholes.

This is a part of the On the IWT horizon series for proactive engagement with wildlife trade issues in an unsettled world.

Read the full paper in Conservation Letters, Emerging illegal wildlife trade issues: A global horizon scan.


With thanks to Nafeesa Esmail and Andrea Athanas for their helpful inputs into this piece. 


Proactive engagement with wildlife trade issues in an unsettled world

By Nafeesa Esmail

In the belief that we need to move beyond crisis management and towards proactive measures and solutions, we conducted a horizon scan of significant, emerging issues in the global illegal wildlife trade (IWT). The resulting paper, identifying potential future risks and opportunities, and offering insights on how to respond to them, has recently been published in Conservation Letters.

Horizon scanning was initially developed to better understand future political movements and capitalise on budding business opportunities. It has been used in multiple fields, including emerging health technologies and infectious diseases, aging populations, and for other conservation-related topics, such as Myanmar forest conservation. The end goal of horizon scanning is to prevent limited resources from being misdirected, and to highlight both the costs of ignoring emerging threats and the need to implement decisions and policies to mitigate such threats before they potentially reach crisis levels.

There are many historic instances (including the current pandemic) that illuminate how ill-prepared we have been for such crises. Looking back at examples, it seems plausible that more of us could have foreseen a problem emerging if only we had been actively considering it, thereby prompting us to act to reduce future impact, ahead of time.

Can this crisis help reframe our thinking and provide a wake-up call both for the health of our global population and our planet to act more preemptively?

Top issues on the IWT horizon

Issue number 11: Increasing demand for substitute species and products through globalisation and intensified trade restrictions.

We use the term ‘issues’ to refer to challenges/risks/threats that may exacerbate IWT or opportunities/advancements that may help us to tackle IWT. To come up with the list of top issues, we adapted existing horizon scanning methods, systematically examining future possibilities in an open, inclusive, and global participatory way. We used a democratic and transparent iterative process to identify and prioritise ideas from various sources, involving 150+ people across diverse backgrounds and geographies (including 38 nationalities) with a core working group of 25 individuals.

The top 3 ranked issues identified in our scan highlight China’s role as a critical player in the global IWT, a perception that has been reinforced with it being the apparent source of the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the exact mechanism of the original virus transmission to humans remains unclear, an early link to the Wuhan wet market (which sold a range of animal products, including wildlifehas raised the profile of the IWT activity and unsanitary conditions often associated with such markets.

While global IWT policy making involves a range of decision-makers and stakeholders, efforts have often focused on enforcement, technical assistance, and capacity building. However, effective measures to counter IWT ultimately hinge on the political will of nation states; wildlife trade policy discussions need to incorporate a deeper understanding of complex market and trade dynamics (including consumer demand), as well past and future trends to be effective.

The top 20 horizon scan issues related to three different, but interconnected themes: developments in biological, information and financial technologies; changing trends in demand and information; and socio-economic and geopolitical shifts and influences (Figure 1: To find more about each specific issue, see our paper (particularly the supplementary material for their descriptions and policy relevance)).

These issues illustrate that we live in a networked, but dynamic and rapidly changing world. Understanding the associated complexities can guide us toward actions and processes that effectively address IWT.  Our analysis suggests that these should be locally led, but encompass broader geopolitical and socio-economic considerations, with a focus on critical regional trade centres.

The top 20 issues with linkages drawn between them. Numbering represents the rank order of the issues. Those outlined in black are cross-thematic issues

The publication of this paper comes 2 years after the project started (early 2018) and we have since seen increasing awareness of many of the top issues, previously relatively unknown, or merely not at the forefront of IWT discourses. Examples of how issues have continued to emerge are numerous – here is one:

Africa and East Asia have long been the focus of IWT priorities, but over the last few years Latin America has emerged as an underrepresented node of high IWT activity, though our understanding of the mechanisms behind increased poaching and trafficking still lag (Issue 20). The frontier of IWT in Latin America has since increased, with more attention brought forth by both the conservation community (October 2018) and global political leaders. Peru hosted the First Americas Regional Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife in Lima (October 2019), during which the Lima Declaration was enacted alongside commitments and statements made to curb future regional IWT activity.

Thinking ahead

One key achievement of this project was its success in bringing together researchers and practitioners from different sectors and disciplines to amplify a topical global conversation. The ability to remotely engage dispersed groups across the world has already become more important, as we continue to adopt new ways of connecting virtually.

Crises like COVID-19 or the 2008 global financial crash have forced our society and markets to adapt and innovate. Businesses and individuals have found interesting ways to reinvent themselves, often bouncing back stronger. However, adaption and innovation are not just reserved for goods and services; they can be used to reshape our thinking as conservationists too.

This analysis can support national governments, international bodies, researchers and non-governmental organisations as they develop future strategies for IWT. It can guide greater coordination of preemptive interventions, integrated across sectors and policy arenas. We are optimistic that such future-orientated exercises will influence conservationists to actively shift their focus from responding to crises to preparing for what lies on the horizon. 


Interested to know more?

Contact the authour, Nafeesa Esmail, here.

Access the full paper here.

Over the next few weeks, a series of posts on top emerging issues within the illegal wildlife trade will be shared through our ‘on the IWT horizon’ commentary series. Watch this space for:

You can also read the CITES CoP18 policy briefing document for strategic IWT decision-making based on this IWT horizon scan.

With thanks to E.J. Milner-Gulland, Mike ‘t Sas-Rolfes, Catherine Workman and Zara Bending for their helpful inputs. And special thanks to all those who contributed to this project, without whom it wouldn’t be possible.


Position statement: managing wildlife trade in the context of COVID-19 and future zoonotic pandemics

By the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, University of Oxford.

COVID-19 is causing widespread human suffering, as the most acute global public health emergency of our generation. While the origin of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID‐19 remains uncertain, several wild species (particularly bats) are known to be important hosts for this family of zoonotic diseases. More generally, there is strong evidence that zoonotic disease emergence is linked to human activities which bring wildlife, domestic animals and humans into increasingly intense contact. This includes destruction and degradation of natural areas; intensive livestock rearing; and hunting, trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife (e.g. bats and primates).

To minimise the risks of future zoonotic outbreaks, whilst also protecting wildlife, ecosystems and human well-being, we need to rebalance our relationship with nature, using an evidence-based approach to manage the risks associated with global food systems. With specific reference to zoonotic animal-origin viruses such as coronaviruses, we therefore recommend the:

  1. Prevention of illegal, unsustainable, unhygienic and high-stress use of domestic and wild animal species. This will improve animal welfare, support conservation and reduce public health risks. This is regardless of end-use (whether it be for food, medicine or pets).
  2. Support of well-regulated, sustainable and cruelty-free trade in wildlife, based on evidence that a particular trade is helping to protect wildlife and their habitats against threats whilst meeting livelihoods and food security needs.
  3. Limitation of destruction of natural ecosystems for agriculture, mining, infrastructure development and urbanisation, working towards halting further loss and restoring nature.
  4. Better management of industrial agriculture, to prevent disease outbreaks in humans and livestock, animal welfare issues, pollution of the land and watercourses, and antibiotic resistance.

In contrast to our recommendations, many conservation and animal welfare organisations are now calling for complete, long-term bans on wildlife trade and consumption, as a means to reduce the risk of future zoonotic pandemics. We recognise that trade in some wild species represents a risk to public health. However, we express concern at the dominant discourse which focusses solely on the links between zoonosis emergence and wildlife trade and caution against a blanket approach to wildlife trade regulation. Instead, we advocate for a more nuanced and evidence-based approach which could better serve both people and wildlife. Our reasons are:

  1. There is a need to address all the root causes of zoonotic disease emergence, as opposed to taking a narrow focus on wildlife trade. Available evidence suggests that wildlife use is one of a growing number of anthropogenic drivers, such as industrialised livestock farming (particularly in temperate regions), agricultural intensification and land use change (particularly in tropical regions, where wildlife biodiversity is high). These issues lead to increases in wildlife-livestock-human interfaces and declines in biodiversity, both of which increase disease transmission, and are further exacerbated by climate change and  global supply chains (i.e. the trade and movement of people and animals). Policy interventions need to address all of these root causes if they are to be successful in reducing the transmission of zoonotic diseases globally.
  1. Long-term policy change should be based on sound evidence: While some organisations are claiming that wildlife trade should be banned on public health grounds, there remains no conclusive evidence about the relative impact of banning all wildlife trade in preventing the emergence of zoonotic diseases in the future. Different organisations are taking slightly different views on what “wildlife trade” is, and which elements should be banned, but the trade in wildlife is multifaceted and heterogeneous. Poorly considered blanket bans could therefore result in unintended negative consequences for both people and wildlife. Past attempts at bans on all wildlife trade and consumption across Africa following the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis resulted in a loss of trust between local communities and conservation NGOs. Other past bans were only transiently effective due to a lack of enforcement capacity and viable alternatives, and were quickly followed by a marked increase in wild meat hunting compared to hunting rates prior to the ban.
  1. Overly hurried interventions can inadvertently do more harm than good. Immediate crisis management responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as closing China’s urban wildlife markets, are warranted. However, longer-term policy change, particularly where policy interventions seek to be scalable and generalisable (e.g. across geographies and zoonoses) should not necessarily be based on extreme cases. Further information should be gathered on the public health risks of wildlife trade, and the potential perverse consequences of new laws and regulations on other aspects of public health, human well-being, and environmental sustainability. For example, banning all wildlife trade and consumption could damage the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, threaten biodiversity, and drive further land-use intensification for agricultural and livestock production. Conversely, maintaining well regulated, legal trade for species that can be safely and sustainably harvested can help to secure wildlife habitats in some areas, thereby avoiding the very land use changes that drive emergence of zoonoses.
  1. Global problems need international solutions. The wildlife trade can be conceptualised by people living in Europe and North America as something that other people do, which makes it easier to call for draconian action. However, wildlife is used all around the world; including game hunting for food and recreation in Europe and North America. The real issue is the way that we use natural resources as a species – whether this be our use of agricultural products such as Soy and Palm oil, our production and consumption of livestock, or our use of wildlife. We no longer mainly eat what we produce locally, and consumer decisions in affluent countries have large impacts on land use change in wild habitats on the other side of the planet. The ecological footprint of consumers in the Global North is much higher than those in the Global South. Viewing the emergence of COVID-19 as an issue that has been created ‘over there’ absolves us of the need to reevaluate our own consumption. The truth is that consumption choices in affluent countries can have huge impacts on the spread of emerging zoonotic diseases on the other side of the world.
  1. Conflation of issues, misinformation and opportunism. We note that the organisations calling for bans on wildlife trade are primarily conservation and animal welfare organisations. These calls can seem like opportunistic use of COVID-19 to further their own objectives, which are only tangentially related to public health. Public health, illegal wildlife trade, biodiversity conservation and animal welfare are all important issues, but they are not completely overlapping. There is a need to disentangle the relationships between these (sometimes competing) priorities and consider difficult and context-specific issues relating to sustainability and ethics, rather than calling for one-size-fits-all policies at a time when people and governments are in crisis-management mode.
  1. Consider the voiceless – bring the people affected to the discussion table. The loudest calls for bans on wildlife trade come from NGOs in the USA and the UK. However, the people who will be affected by these bans include indigenous groups and local communities in poorer countries who rely on the wildlife trade for their livelihoods. No policy should be made without their active, prior involvement. It is not enough to say that their needs will be considered after the fact.

If we are to protect people around the world against the emergence of further zoonotic diseases, we must learn from past experience. We must better understand the pathways to infection and the various ways in which our activities contribute to pandemic disease risk, to help ensure that policy changes are driven by evidence, and that subsequent actions are both socially just and realistic. At this time of global emergency, we need to focus on controlling the pandemic and alleviating the suffering being endured by people worldwide. Now is not the time to be calling for global bans on wildlife trade, but when the time is right a more nuanced and evidence-based approach can be taken, which will both reduce risks to public health, conserve wildlife and natural systems, and improve the welfare of domestic and wild animals.

This position statement was jointly prepared and agreed by members of the the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, with particular contributions from E.J. Milner-Gulland, Hollie Booth, Lauren Coad and Stephanie Brittain. Members of the team have also written more detailed blogs on this topic, which are available here:

For enquiries related to this position statement, please contact


CITES 18th Conference of the Parties

The 18th Conference of the Parties for CITES convened August 17-28, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. Read summary highlights and analysis here.

Following the meeting, final resolutions from the CITES CoP18 have now been released. The CITES Secretariat has published Amendments to Appendices I, II, III as an Annex to facilitate amendments by Parties for their national legislation. The new Appendices will take effect on November 26 2019 at which time, the CITES Secretariat will replace the Appendices on its website.

To support the meetings’ strategic agenda items, OMP-IWT and collaborators produced a policy briefing document to inform future CITES policy decisions, based on the OMP-IWT led global horizon scan of emerging illegal wildlife trade issues.

Next scheduled CITES meetings are: 31st meeting of the Animals Committee (July 13-16, 2020); Joint sessions of Animals and Plants Committees (July 17, 2020); 25th meeting of the Plants Committee (July 20-23, 2020); 73rd meeting of the Standing Committee (October 4-9, 2020).

First Americas regional conference on the illegal wildlife trade

On October 3-4, 2019, Peru hosted the First Americas Regional Conference on the Illegal Trade in Wildlife in Lima. It was organized by the Government of Peru, in cooperation with the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Conference was the first regional meeting of the Americas on the issue of illegal wildlife trade, as a follow-up to the London International Conference held in 2018, and served as a platform to establish partnerships with the countries in the region and major transit and destination countries, for the prevention and coordinated control of illegal wildlife trade. Convened discussions included emerging issues such as the strengthening and harmonization of legal frameworks and their enforcement; controls and regulations on wildlife trade; use of new technologies to combat illegal wildlife trade; and demand reduction through innovative and efficient communication mechanisms.

At the conference, the Lima Declaration was enacted. Local community representatives across Latin America also released a joint statement requesting recognition of their role in wildlife management and sustainable use as a solution to address the illegal wildlife trade. The next regional IWT meeting is scheduled to be held in Columbia in 2021.

Meeting announcement information source: CITES Notification to the Parties No. 2019/020.

CALL FOR PAPERS – managing demand for wildlife products

The guest editors invite submissions to People and Nature covering novel research and approaches to managing demand for wildlife products, in particular: (1) understanding consumer preferences and choices, (2) design and implementation of behavior change interventions, and (3) impact evaluation of interventions aiming to influence consumers of wildlife products.

Prospective authors should submit a 300 word abstract together with a tentative title to Diogo Veríssimo ( for consideration. Full manuscripts must be submitted by the 31st of October 2019.

Latin American & Caribbean network to combat wildlife trafficking

The Brazilian Network to Combat Wildlife Trafficking – RENCTAS, is currently developing an International Campaign Against Wildlife Trafficking (ICAWT), which will launch in the coming months. This project aims to stimulate a collaborative network of local NGOs and universities from Latin American and Caribbean countries to combat animal trafficking in the region.

The project will use an online platform and forum to connect different parts of the region, as well as to facilitate the exchange of information and the dissemination of initiatives on a global scale to increase overall awareness about the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on Latin American and Caribbean biodiversity.

Expected activities include (among others): a multi-faceted campaign to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking; a report on the social networks developing this criminal activity; replicable pilot conservation projects in collaboration with indigenous and riverside communities to promote land conservation.

RENCTAS is seeking local NGOs and universities in Latin America and Caribbean to join the initiative, as well as foreign partners to bring technical guidance to and share their experience and expertise. Please get in touch with Thiago Costa at to engage with this network.

The Trade and Use of Giraffe Parts Survey

San Diego Zoo Global, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and OMP-IWT are conducting a trade assessment for giraffe following the recent proposals for listing the species on CITES Appendix II, and the findings of the 2018 Giraffe Conservation Symposium, which identified a key knowledge gap in this area. If you have expertise on this topic, please spare 15 minutes to complete our survey:


The UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund is investing in 12 research hubs across the world over the next 5 years. One of these is the TRADE Hub, which aims to make trade a positive force for both people and nature conservation. The project, led by UNEP-WCMC and involving over 50 partner organisations including the University of Oxford, will study patterns of trade in wildlife, wild meat and agricultural goods to gain a more robust understanding of how different systems of trade affect biodiversity, with the aim of finding solutions for minimising these impacts. The TRADE Hub will focus its efforts primarily on eight countries: Brazil, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Republic of Congo, and Tanzania. More here.

Legal Atlas for Wildlife Trade

Legal Atlas provides a highly specialized and customizable legal intelligence platform that can be used to gain insight into the laws governing illicit activities, including wildlife trade by enabling the rapid and comprehensive compilation and comparison of applicable sanctions. It is currently supporting the WILDS project (researching how sanctions against IWT can better reflect impacts to society) and the Legis-Ape project (a legal systematic assessment for the conservation and protection of great apes and gibbons). Legal Atlas has also recently been used to review wildlife cybercrime law and the application of anti-money laundering laws to wildlife trade crimes supporting the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

A Call to Saiga People

How anyone can help saigas, right now from their computer, without donating any money or major amounts of time?

Working in a saiga antelope consumer country I’ve become increasingly aware of one small truth, most consumers of saiga horn have never even heard of the word ‘saiga’. Now, this is none too surprising given the fact that saiga is the English common name (as well as Latin genus name), and many consumers do not speak English. But what may be surprising, is that many consumers in our study area, and beyond, have no idea what the animal is at all, let alone how the horns are procured, what countries it lives in, and what its conservation or trade status is. (FYI for soon-to-be converted saiga people, it’s a Critically Endangered antelope from Central Asia).

So how did this come to be? Especially given the fact that we live in a world where the globe is so interconnected on the internet, how is it that a consumer has no idea what product they’re buying?

It’s actually quite easy. If you are a consumer, you know of saiga only as ling yang (羚羊), a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) you purchase to treat ailments such as a fever or a cough. So when you search online for information regarding this medicine (what quantity to use, where to buy it, how effective it is), all you will ever see fed back to you is information from other sources referring to the product as ling yang.

Ling yangThus exists two parallel worlds. One with saiga, the ungulate under major poaching and disease impact, and one with ling yang, the medicinal product. And these non-overlapping realities just reinforce the gap between those interested in saiga versus ling yang.

How many other species live in such dichotomous perceptions? Where the consumer and conservationist view the same plant or animal in two entirely different ways, with little to no cross-over in information, discussion, or understanding. I can posit quite a few.

My call to saiga people the globe over is, therefore, to start integrating the pinyin and Chinese characters into everything: all saiga conservation and research webpages or posts that mention saiga horns as used in TCM, no matter the language. Our goal is for ling yang users to start seeing webpages, social media posts, and news about saiga, whenever they look up info on the horn as a medicine.

Combatting the entire issue of unsustainable demand will not, in truth, be solved by this little fix, but I would argue that it is a critical, and necessary, step to at least providing an opportunity for consumers to know more about the medicine in their medicine cabinet that we know of as saiga.

To help:

Add this text at least once to every webpage, and whenever possible in social media posts, when referring to saiga horn as a TCM product:  (ling yang, 羚羊)

As a note, ling yang in Chinese usually means just antelope (or wild antelope), but in the context of TCM, it is almost always referring to saiga antelope horns.


A researcher working with ling yang consumers


Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism recently launched a new interactive geojournalism tool, #WILDEYEwhich is being used to track illicit wildlife trade throughout Europe by mapping seizures, arrests, court cases and convictions.

People Not Poaching

People Not Poaching, a Communities and IWT Learning Platform recently launched as a positive new initiative to foster learning and experience-sharing on supporting and engaging communities in initiatives to reduce poaching and IWT. It is a joint project between the IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and TRAFFIC.

Oxford Martin wildlife trade experts join UK government consortium on demand reduction

Researchers from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade have been invited by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to take part in a new consortium of specialists in demand reduction and behaviour change, as part of efforts to tackle the global trade in illegal wildlife products.

New action plan to fight online trade in illegal wildlife products

The Global Wildlife Cybercrime Action Plan is aimed at improving co-ordination across the public and private to tackle the online trade in illegal wildlife products. The plan brings together a number of major organisations and expertise working on combating the illegal wildlife trade, including IFAW, INTERPOLOxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, TRAFFIC and WWF.

Evidence to Action event

On October 9, 2018, the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife TradeBIOSEC University of SheffieldLancaster Environment Centre, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and the Zoological Society of London held the event, Evidence to Action: Research to Address the Illegal Wildlife Trade. Read the full event summary here.

Illegal Wildlife Trade Symposium 2018

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (OMP-IWT) is thrilled to announce its 2nd Symposium on Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT), which will be hosted in partnership with BIOSEC University of Sheffield, Lancaster Environmental Centre, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and associated with the Royal Society. The meeting will be held in Central London prior to the 2018 London IWT Conference.

The first day, on October 9th, will bring together those carrying out research addressing IWT, and their collaborators from around the world, to discuss new ways to address this global threat more effectively. The second day, on October 10th, will be reaching out to government representatives attending the London Conference, and other colleagues in a range of sectors, with interactive discussions and exhibits on IWT research.

More information will be available in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and save the date!

Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online

Advances in technology and connectivity across the world, combined with rising buying power and demand for illegal wildlife products, have increased the ease of exchange from poacher to consumer. As a result, an unregulated online market allows criminals to sell illegally obtained wildlife products across the globe. Purchasing elephant ivory, tiger cubs, and pangolin scales is as easy as click, pay, ship.

Fortunately, the world’s biggest e-commerce, technology, and social media companies (such as eBay, Google, Microsoft and Tencent) have joined forces to shut down online marketplaces for wildlife traffickers. The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online brings together companies from across the world in partnership with wildlife experts at WWF, TRAFFIC the wildlife trade monitoring network, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for an industry-wide approach to reduce wildlife trafficking online by 80% by 2020.

For more information and how to get involved, see here.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums and U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance Join Forces

In mid-February, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (USWTA) announced their joining of forces in a united effort to fight the global epidemic of wildlife trafficking. San Diego Zoo Global, along with several other conservation-based accredited zoos, has pledged to support this effort through action, leadership and resources.

Beginning in 2015, the USWTA assembled an impressive coalition of corporate and nonprofit member organizations, all working together to raise awareness about the devastating impact that wildlife trafficking has on wild animals and to help stop consumer demand for endangered species products. AZA is a founding member of the USWTA.

Read more here.

69th Standing Committee Meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

This summary has been abridged from IISD Reporting Services.


The CITES SC69 meeting took place on 27 November – 1 December, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES began the meeting by highlighting a recent UN General Assembly Resolution on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife and called for increased efforts to put trade in CITES-listed timber on a legal and sustainable footing. He stressed the SC’s “supportive and non-adversarial” approach to CITES compliance matters. SC Chair Carolina Caceres (Canada) noted the packed agenda at SC69 and urged participants to summon a “spirit of collaboration” in order to complete the work required before SC70 and the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18).

The SC considered administrative, financial and compliance issues, including on introduction from the sea of specimens from the North Pacific population of the sei whale. Switzerland announced it would provide 1 million Swiss Francs to the CITES Secretariat each year, starting in 2019, pending approval by its parliament for the budget increase. Sri Lanka announced the dates for CITES CoP18 in Sri Lanka (May 22 – June 3 2019).

Discussions deliberated throughout the week included (but were not limited to):

  • Issues of Malagasy timber trade, with the agreement to maintain the recommendation for parties not to accept exports or re-exports for commercial purposes from Madagascar of specimens of Diospyros and Dalbergiaspp.
  • Elephants and ivory, specifically commending efforts made or that are underway to close domestic ivory markets, and addressing progress on National Ivory Action Plans (NIAPs), including concerns related to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) methodology. Parties including China, Hong Kong, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand and Uganda were commended for the progress the Standing Committee considered they had made.
  • Matters of food security, livelihoods, engagement of rural communities in CITES and terminology related to local, indigenous and rural communities. Interventions from participants included pleas to consider the effects of CITES decisions on local people. This led to the agreement of a revised mandate for an intersessional working group.
  • Cooperation with other biodiversity related conventions, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), with special reference to the scientific and technical evaluation of listing proposals for commercially exploited aquatic species.
  • Combating wildlife cybercrime: at an event held alongside CITES SC69, the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) announced new EU funding to step up the fight against illegal wildlife trade, totalling USD 20 million for the implementation of the ICCWC Strategic Programme 2016-2020.
  • Disposal of confiscated specimens and specimens produced from synthetic or cultured DNA.
  • Purpose codes on CITES permits and certificates, definition of the term “appropriate and acceptable destinations,” electronic systems and information technologies and traceability
  • Various species-specific issues were raised including: Humphead wrasse, illegal trade in Tibetan antelope, rhinoceroses and interpretation of annotation #15, cheetahs, sturgeons and paddlefish, sharks and rays, African lion and illegal trade in eels, rosewood timber species, tortoises and freshwater turtles.
  • With regards to pangolins, deliberations primarily focused on interpretation of CITES Res. Conf. 13.6 and in particular, whether specimens of pangolins acquired before the species were listed in Appendix I in 2016 should be treated as specimens of species in Appendix I or II. The Standing Committee agreed that guidance on interpretation of this Resolution in this context should be provided by the CoP, and advised Parties that in the interim they should treat all specimens of pangolins as specimens of species in Appendix I. This issue will now be discussed at CoP18.

Requesting input for Tools & Guidance

As part of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, we aim to translate our research into impact, by creating a set of Tools & Guidance, in collaboration with and for ongoing use by, stakeholders working within the illegal wildlife trade.

Our Tools & Guidance will be grounded within the specifics of our research, yet we wish to have full involvement of stakeholders throughout the process so what we produce is useful for the wider global community working to address wildlife trade. Thus, we are requesting your input to help us ascertain interest, need and help guide our direction.

Thank you in advance for your time in completing our survey

London 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference: Oct 10-11, 2018

UK Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development have announced the London 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference will be held October 10-11, 2018. This will be the fourth consecutive conference on IWT, after London in 2014 through to Kasane in 2015 and Hanoi in 2016, with aims to bring together international leadership and secure political commitment to bring an end to IWT.

The conference was launched by ministers together with NGOs, academics and key countries affected by IWT, after the government announced new plans to ban ivory sales in the UK. Prior to doing so, Defra is seeking public views and evidence on what the effect of this measure will have. Consultations close December 29, 2017, so submit your perspectives and additional documentation to substantiate soon, if you haven’t done so already.

“Only by building global consensus and working together will we be able to stop wildlife crime in its tracks, and I am determined that the UK will continue to drive forward this agenda.” – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

“The international community shares a common aim to end merciless poaching and criminal trading – but now is the time to step up decisive action.” – Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey

Report on Wildlife trade in Amazon countries: an analysis of trade in CITES-listed species released

This report presents the first comprehensive overview of international trade in CITES-listed wildlife in the Amazon countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The analysis provides a baseline of information on trade levels and trends in these countries for the ten-year period 2005-2014, in order to inform trade management in the region. Produced in close collaboration with national experts, the report also presents contextual information and insights into the management of wildlife trade in the region. Authors of this report include: Pablo Sinovas, Becky Price, Emily King, Amy Hinsley, Alyson Pavitt

The report can be downloaded here.

Biodiversity and Security: BIOSEC project

In September 2016, the University of Sheffield launched the project, Biodiversity and Security: Understanding environmental crime, illegal wildlife trade and threat finance (BIOSEC). Running until August 2020, BIOSEC is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and is led by Professor Rosaleen Duffy in the Department of Politics. The project examines the growing links between biodiversity conservation, militarisation and global security concerns, including the caviar trade within the EU, use of green surveillance technologies in conservation and the impact of illegal wildlife trade in both source and end user countries.

To find out more about the BIOSEC team, their current research and upcoming events, you can visit their website, follow BIOSEC on Twitter and read a copy of their latest newsletter.

1st International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management to be held 4– 6 September 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Free the Bears, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group are pleased to announce that the first international symposium dedicated to the conservation and management of the world’s smallest ursid – the Sun bear – will be held from the 4th to 6th September 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The symposium will bring together field researchers, conservation managers, environmental educators and conservation breeding specialists, as well as government and industry representatives to share experiences and create a coordinated plan for the conservation of one of Southeast Asia’s least known large mammals.

The symposium will be designed to encourage presentations and discussions that will contribute towards a range-wide conservation strategy for Sun bears which will be developed during a conservation planning workshop to be held on the 7th and 8th September, immediately after the symposium.

Find out more here or contact for further details.

New IUCN SSC sub-group on the global orchid trade established

The majority of species traded are plants and orchids are one of the main taxonomic groups. This includes the international horticultural industry, ingredients in traditional medicines, high-end cosmetics, and edible products. Every orchid species is listed in the CITES, accounting for >70% of all species listed by the Convention.

Recognising the importance of this trade and the conservation implications of unsustainable exploitation, in October 2016, the IUCN Species Survival Commission Orchid Specialist Group established a new sub-group focused on the global orchid trade. The sub-group aims to generate and coordinate expert inputs on the trade of orchids and their derivatives, to inform domestic regional and international conservation and sustainable use efforts. This includes engaging with policy makers, practitioners and the public to provide information and expertise and raise the profile of orchid trade.

Call for Conservation Evidence on interventions on Wildlife Trade of Endangered Species

The University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the Oxford Martin Programme on Illegal Wildlife Trade, are planning to undertake a Conservation Evidence project to identify and gather evidence of interventions that have been or could potentially be implemented to tackle all stages of the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.

An initial list of interventions has been drafted, but we are looking for feedback and especially welcome the addition to the list of any interventions to reduce trade in protected species that we have missed. Please view the list here or contact Nancy Ockendon for further information or any contributions you would like to make.