• The trade in tusks, skins, horns and other illicit commodities is worth billions to poachers.
  • Every year, UN World Wildlife Day raises awareness of the plight of illicitly traded creatures and plants.
  • The theme of this year’s event is Sustaining all life on Earth.

Today’s interconnected world was built on international trade, but not all of it is legal. Every year, up to $23 billion worth of elephant tusks, rhino horns, tiger bones, bear bile and other wildlife by-products illicitly change hands, according to UN estimates.

Poachers, traffickers and highly-organized criminal gangs decimate already endangered wildlife species, reaping a deadly harvest in the pursuit of profits.


To address the problem, in 1973 the United Nations General Assembly signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), aimed at stemming the illegal trade in wild animals and rare commodities.

UN World Wildlife Day is held each year on the anniversary of the signing. The day helps raise awareness of the many challenges facing the world’s wild animals and plants and the efforts to stamp out illegal trading.

Here are a few facts about some of our increasingly endangered species.

1. Rare scales and trophy skins

A BABY PANGOLIN SITS ON THE BACK OF ITS MOTHER AT A ZOO IN BHUBANESHWARA BABY PANGOLIN SITS ON THE BACK OF ITS MOTHER AT A ZOO IN BHUBANESHWAR.A baby pangolin sits on the back of its mother at a zoo in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneshwar February 22, 2001. The Nandan Kanan Zoological Park is believed to be the only zoo in India that houses such pangolins, and has been doing so since 1971. There are seven pangolins in the zoo  zoo captivity wildlife world wildlfe day animals beavers whales ducks pesticides coral krill dogs puppies hound cute Australia great barrier reef sea oceans underwater water  Biodiversity indigenous native tribe tribes tribal flora fauna human rights insects plants crops growth preservation conservation environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics conservation conservationist habitat cages growth coral rejuvenation climate change environment environmental fish mammals Hippocampus Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora endangered vulnerable  poaching illicit illegal trade ivory reserves
Pangolin scales are a delicacy in parts of Asia.
Image: REUTERS

Although many people may not be familiar with pangolins, the scales of these shy armour-plated creatures are used to treat everything from hangovers to liver conditions. Additionally, this animal’s meat is considered an expensive delicacy in parts of Asia and Africa. An estimated 1 million of the creatures have been poached in the last decade, making them the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Approximately 20 tonnes of pangolin and their parts cross international borders illegally every year, mainly to popular markets in places like China and Viet Nam.

2. Tigers behind bars

Royal Bengal tigers are pictured inside an enclosure at the Central Zoo in Lalitpur, Nepal  zoo captivity wildlife world wildlfe day animals beavers whales ducks pesticides coral krill dogs puppies hound cute Australia great barrier reef sea oceans underwater water  Biodiversity indigenous native tribe tribes tribal flora fauna human rights insects plants crops growth preservation conservation environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics conservation conservationist habitat cages growth coral rejuvenation climate change environment environmental fish mammals Hippocampus Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora endangered vulnerable  poaching illicit illegal trade ivory reserves
Between 7,000 and 8,000 tigers are believed to be held captive on breeding farms.
Image: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Once a common sight across Asia’s wildlands, tigers have disappeared from south-west and central Asia.

Poaching and random trapping have helped shrink the tiger population. Meanwhile, around 100 people enter the illegal trade chain to Asia each year.

According to some estimates, only around 3,800 tigers are thought to remain in the wild. Today, tigers are mostly found in captivity with between 7,000 and 8,000 of these big cats held in tiger farms for breeding.

3. Hunted for their horns

White rhinoceros Bruno (R) and Gracie are seen in their enclosure at Thoiry zoo and wildlife park, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Paris, France, March 7, 2017. Poachers broke into the zoo last night, shot dead four-year-old male white rhino called Vince, and sawed off its horn in what is believed to be the first time in Europe that a rhino in captivity has been attacked and killed  zoo captivity wildlife world wildlfe day animals beavers whales ducks pesticides coral krill dogs puppies hound cute Australia great barrier reef sea oceans underwater water  Biodiversity indigenous native tribe tribes tribal flora fauna human rights insects plants crops growth preservation conservation environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics conservation conservationist habitat cages growth coral rejuvenation climate change environment environmental fish mammals Hippocampus Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora endangered vulnerable  poaching illicit illegal trade ivory reserves
There are only about 20,000 White Rhinos left in Africa.
Image: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Rhinos in Africa once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but today the continent is home to around 20,000 white rhinos and about 5,000 black rhinos.

It’s thought poachers wiped out 96% of black rhinos between 1972 and 1996, leaving the species critically endangered. Today, three rhinos are poached from Africa every day.

Several subspecies face extinction, including the cottoni white rhino, of which just two female individuals remain, in captivity. For others, it is too late: The Western black subspecies went extinct in November 2011.

4. Eliminating elephants

A group of elephants are seen near a watering hole inside Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe  zoo captivity wildlife world wildlfe day animals beavers whales ducks pesticides coral krill dogs puppies hound cute Australia great barrier reef sea oceans underwater water  Biodiversity indigenous native tribe tribes tribal flora fauna human rights insects plants crops growth preservation conservation environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics conservation conservationist habitat cages growth coral rejuvenation climate change environment environmental fish mammals Hippocampus Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora endangered vulnerable  poaching illicit illegal trade ivory reserves
African elephants are one of the most heavily poached mammals on Earth.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Ivory hunters eliminated around 90% of the continent’s African elephants within the last century. Hunting prevention measures have stabilized some elephant populations, but challenges remain.

African elephants – the big-eared variety – are one of the most heavily poached mammals on the planet. According to the World Wildlife Federation, around 55 African elephants are caught by poachers every day.

These animals face other threats, too. Human development and commerce are encroaching on their natural habitats, which are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

5. Timber

Not all endangered wildlife runs, jumps or crawls. Many tinder species are as beautiful as they are rare, driving the creation of a $227 billion global industry.

Unfortunately, 10-30% of all timber that changes hands is traded illegally. That illegal trade has lead to both deforestation and habitat loss.

 poaching illicit illegal trade ivory reserves zoo captivity wildlife world wildlfe day animals beavers whales ducks pesticides coral krill dogs puppies hound cute Australia great barrier reef sea oceans underwater water  Biodiversity indigenous native tribe tribes tribal flora fauna human rights insects plants crops growth preservation conservation environment renewable solar energy change transition friendly environment carbon footprint carbon emissions reduction change natural climate change global warming air pollution clean energy power renewables plastic plastics conservation conservationist habitat cages growth coral rejuvenation climate change environment environmental fish mammals Hippocampus Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora endangered vulnerable
Seizures of illegal worldwide trade by type between 2005 and 2014.
Image: Statista

Plant or animal, it's essential we sustain all life on Earth, as this year's World Wildlife Day theme reminds us.

Our responsibility is simple, according to the UN Secretary General António Guterres. “Let us remind ourselves of our duty to preserve and sustainably use the vast variety of life on the planet. Let us push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature.”