Wildlife Trafficking from Africa: A Global Problem

Wildlife trafficking products

Confiscated illegal wildlife products. Tom MacKenzie, USFWS. 

This work forms part of the Stable Seas Maritime Security Index.

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most integral hubs for the global trade in illicit wildlife. Wildlife is also among the most profitable illicit trade sectors. Rhino horn, ivory, and pangolin scales are the most common trafficked wildlife products. Rhino horn and ivory alone represent a market value estimated at between $5 and $23 billion annually

As part of a global network of organized crime, wildlife trafficking is among the most lucrative. It provides an important source of income for non-state armed actors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, and South Sudan.

Sea freight is the most common format for trafficking wildlife. For example, rhino horn is often concealed as lumber headed for Asian markets. It is also common to have mixed shipments containing a range of illicit wildlife products such as rhino horn, ivory, and pangolin scales.

While rhino horn and ivory generally attract international attention, a less familiar mammal, the pangolin, is on the verge of extinction due to trafficking. The scales of the pangolin are used in traditional medicine in Asia and Africa, and the meat is considered a delicacy.  More than one million pangolins were trafficked in the last decade, making them the most trafficked mammal in the world.

pangolinPangolin trafficking via maritime routes from Africa to Asia has risen steadily since 2008 due to populations of the animal in Asia plummeting as a result of poaching. According to a 2016 update on the status of pangolins globally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), all eight species (four of which are native to the African continent) are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Ship seizures in Hong Kong implicate West African countries (most notably Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana) as the main countries of origin.

In the absence of comprehensive protective legislation and enforcement in both origin and destination countries, the maritime-based trafficking of wildlife from Africa will continue unabated. Improving maritime security remains integral to addressing this global problem.