Volume 57

Fighting Tooth and Nail: Deterring Wildlife Trafficking in the Era of Mass Extinction

by L.S. Stegman

Below decks on a fishing ship, crates overflow with hundreds of severed shark fins, grisly harbingers of a changing seascape. Stuffed into a small car, dozens of baby parrots are smuggled across the border for sale as pets in the United States. Narwhal tusks are smuggled into the country and sold on Nantucket, with the help of a corrupt law enforcement officer. These macabre examples provide a window into one of the world’s largest criminal enterprises: the illegal wildlife trade.

The illegal wildlife trade is massive, generating estimated profits of almost twenty billion dollars per year. Using conservative estimates, wildlife trafficking is the fourth most profitable criminal enterprise in the world, surpassed only by the narcotics trade, the illegal weapons trade, and human trafficking. There is one key difference between the wildlife trade and the other members of the black market ‘big four’: combatting illegal wildlife trafficking is not a top law enforcement priority. This perspective needs to change.

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