National Wildlife Property Repository

Conserving America's Future


What is Wildlife Trade?

Wildlife trade is the international trade (import and export) of wildlife and products made from wildlife. When legal, wildlife trade can be regulated through laws to protect and minimize impacts to biodiversity. Live wildlife is imported for the pet trade.  Some examples of wildlife products include skins, food, medicines, etc. Trade in wildlife and wildlife products is a multi-billion dollar business that spans the entire globe.

  • Shark Fin seizure. Credit: J. Goldman / USFWS.

    Shark Fin seizure. Credit: J. Goldman / USFWS.

  • Shark Fin seizure. Credit: J. Goldman / USFWS.

    Shark Fin seizure. Credit: J. Goldman / USFWS.
    Items at the National Wildlife Property Repository represent only a fraction of what enters the United States illegally.

  • Disposal of shark fins from a seized shipment.  Credit: D. Abernathy / USFWS.

    Disposal of shark fins from a seized shipment. Credit: D. Abernathy, / USFWS.

When unregulated, the demand in wildlife trade can quickly become unsustainable by harvesting and taking more plants or animals than the species population can reproduce. Plants and animals that are rare or endangered are particularly vulnerable because they are already few in numbers. Similar to climate change and habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade is another limiting factor that contributes to the loss of biodiversity. Knowing the importance of biodiversity for the health of our planet and global economy, there are efforts in place to help combat illegal wildlife trade.

What is Legal versus Illegal Wildlife Trade?
Present day laws and regulations support the long term survival of plant and animal species. By following the conditions of these regulations, legal wildlife trade is possible. Many species can be legally harvested and traded while protecting population numbers and overall ecosystem health.

Wildlife property that is confiscated and sent to the Repository is often the result of a violation of one or more of these laws. Here is a brief overview of a few of the major U.S. laws and regulations that pertain to wildlife and wildlife trade. Click on the links for more information.

Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife Trafficking is poaching and illegally harvesting protected species for trade in their related parts or products. Not only does this represent a serious threat to conservation, but also to global security. Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that undermines security across nations and fuels instability. Large scale illegal trade in protected and managed species can decimate populations for charismatic species like elephants, rhinos, and tigers.

Wildlife trafficking reduces the economic, social and environmental benefits of wildlife, while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability and undermining security. Global illegal wildlife trade is estimated to generate billions of dollars annually. Along with other forms of trafficking for arms, drugs, and human trafficking, organized criminal syndicates seek to profit from wildlife trafficking which can be seen as high return and low risk. As long as there is demand from consumers, criminals will continue to attempt to supply the demand.

Updates in Wildlife Trafficking

The impacts of poaching and wildlife trafficking are global, therefore so too are the solutions. The United States works with the international community to help build capacity for protecting and managing species involved in wildlife trafficking.

  • In May 2013, the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice agreed to a resolution calling on the nations of the world to "recognize wildlife and forest crimes as a serious form of organized crime and strengthen penalties against criminal syndicates and networks profiting from such illegal trade".
  • In response, President Obama issued an Executive Order in July 2013, committing the United States to step up its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. See the Executive Order here:
  • In February 2014, President Obama issued a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee is looking to address the issues with a Markup of HR 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act which in addition to other things, would put wildlife trafficking in the same category as weapons trafficking and drug trafficking, making it a liable offense for money laundering and racketeering, and requires fines, forfeitures, and restitution received to be transferred to federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts.
  • In February 2014, President Obama issued a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.
  • On February 11, 2015, the White House released an implementation plan for the national strategy. The Strategy and Plan outline the following objectives: 1) Strengthen Enforcement; 2) Reduce Demand for Illegally Traded Wildlife; and 3) Build International Cooperation, Commitment, and Public-Private Partnerships. 
  • In October 2016 President Obama signed the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act into law. With bipartisan support, this legislation fosters partnerships with the United States and foreign governments in the fight against international criminal syndicates and terrorist groups that use wildlife trafficking to fund their organizations. The US State Department will be directed to identify source countries, major transit routes, and end consumers. It will also provide resources and support for law enforcement to combat poaching and trafficking. Trafficking and smuggling endangered species for sale may be treated as a predicated offense under money laundering statutes.

United States Role in the Illegal Wildlife Trade

  • The United States is a destination and transit point for trafficked wildlife and wildlife products, including exotic pets, reptile skin products, traditional medicine ingredients, elephant ivory and rhino horn. Much of the world’s trade – both legal and illegal – in wild animal and plant species is driven by U.S. consumers, originates in our country or passes through our ports on the way to other nations.
  • The United States is also a supplier of native species that are in demand in other countries, including American ginseng, turtles, eels, and other species, some of which are illegally removed from the wild and exported.
  • The United States is committed to combating wildlife trafficking and the transnational organized crime attached to this illicit trade. We recognize that we are part of the problem and we are determined to be a part of the solution.
  • In 2014, the United States invested more than $60 million to end this pernicious trade and plans to devote that much or more in 2015

Learn more about Wildlife Trafficking here: