Illegal Wildlife Trade

Pakistan is rich in biodiversity and is a home to some of the world’s rarest wildlife but this great genetic, species and ecosystem diversity provides greater opportunities for poaching and their illegal trade.The destruction caused by illegal wildlife trade around the world is also extending to Pakistan where biodiversity and ecosystems are already at high risk with a number of endangered species being targeted for this illicit trade.

What is illegal wildlife trade?

Wildlife crime destabilizes ecosystems and alongside habitat destruction, poses a grave threat to endangered wildlife. It does, however, take a greater stretch of the imagination to see how illegal wildlife trade is not solely an environmental injustice, but also undermines state authority, fuels violent conflict and terrorism, impacts national and global security and socioeconomic development. Estimated to generate US$20 billion annually, illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest global illegal activities after drugs and human trafficking.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recognizes wildlife crime as the third largest transnational crime after drugs and human trafficking, which undermines state authority and socio-economic development. Illegal wildlife trade has a devastating impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Illegal Wildlife Trade in Pakistan’s Context

Pakistan is home to a wide array of biodiversity, but the lack of effective management and poor law enforcement has resulted in prevalent and often unreported wildlife crime. As a source, consumer and transit country for consignments of live animals, their parts and derivatives, Pakistan is in a strategic location with road, air and sea transit routes that are easily accessible and not closely monitored.

Pakistan is known to face trade of several species of reptiles, mammals, birds, timber, NTFPs as well as medicinal plants. Commercial exploitation of these fauna and flora has been on a raise due to the established network of wildlife poachers and dealers.

Illegal trade in parts of freshwater turtles in Pakistan revealed that this lucrative business is very well organized throughout its course from harvesting to export; at local level, harvesting/poaching of the species in demand takes place from its natural habitat while at national level, fake documentation is prepared, transporting agencies are contacted and the consignment is dispatched to national exit points (seaport, airports and road access) to be exported to its final destination in the consumer country.

What Drivers Illegal Wildlife Trade?

The key drivers of illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan are numerous. Firstly, inadequate implementation of legislation and weak penalties are ineffective deterrents for smugglers. Secondly, bodies responsible for enforcing legislation often lack the equipment, technology and capacity to successfully spot smugglers, who often use calculated and sophisticated techniques. Underlining these factors, the insidious combination of poverty, greed and corruption propel this trade further.

What Is the Scale of Wildlife Trade?

Though by its very nature, it is difficult to calculate an exact figure for the value of illegal wildlife tradebut it is a major driver behind the decline of almost entire vertebrate group across many countries of Asia, South America as well as Africa. The danger of trafficking is not confined to the majestic species like elephants, tigers and rhinos, according to estimations about one-third of bird species are traded illegally. A recently launch report on the state of Global Wildlife Crimes of the United Nations reported illegal trade of about 7,000 species in more than 164,000 seizures incidences from 120 countries since 1999 (UNODC 2016)

Species in Trade Demand in Pakistan

    Species that are in traded from Pakistan include:
  • Freshwater turtles - all of the eight species
  • Tortoises - Indian star and Afghan
  • Marine turtles -
  • Raptors particularly Falcons
  • Indian pangolin
  • Venomous including cobra, vipers and non-venomous snakes Indian rock python
  • Others reptiles including monitor lizards, spiny tailed lizards
  • Fur animals (foxes, jackal, wolf, freshwater otters)
  • Shark (fins)
  • Invertebrates such as scorpions

Freshwater turtles

Pakistan is a home to eight freshwater turtles and all of them are under serious threat of illegal wildlife trade. The scale of illegal trade can be evident from the fact that only during 2015. Five consignments carrying 1345 live freshwater turtles and 1.9 tons of their body parts including dried meat and bones were ceased by the law-enforcement agencies, bound to different East Asian countries. Pakistan Customs officials have ceased two consignments at the Lahore airport already this year and rescued about 184 Black Spotted turtles from the traffickers. Price of one freshwater turtle in the Asian markets is estimated about 2500 USD.

Indian pangolin

The Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), one of the four species of Pangolins found in Asia, is listed as an endangered species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species since 2009. The species is also included in the Appendix II of CITES, with a zero trade quota, despite which, its illegal trade continues throughout the distribution range. Pangolins have become one of the most trafficked mammals globally, which is due to the increasing demands for their meat and medicinal derivatives. Illegal capturing, killing and trade of pangolins has been going on in Pakistan particularly in the Pothohar region for a long time for its scales that are in demand in the international market, particularly in the Pothohar region where evidences suggested capturing of over 100 pangolins for illegal trade of scales between 2011 and 2012.


Falcons are another important target of the wildlife traffickers due to their demand in the Middle East and during 2015, 46 falcons (including Saker, Peregrine and Laggar falcons) ceased alive on different occasion.Recent studies show that in the past 15 years, there has been a significant decline in their wild population. Certain falcon species are becoming rarer, most significantly the Saker andPeregrine falcon which are largely used in falconry. Increasing interest in falconry from the Middle East is encouraging smugglers to trap these birds alive. As such, the illegal trade is a primary threat to numerous species of falcons within Pakistan.


  • National strategy to combat illegal wildlife trade

    WWF-Pakistan is developing a national action plan to address these issues and challenges. A number of consultative and capacity building workshops were conducted in collaboration with concerned agencies ranging from provincial wildlife departments, to Pakistan Customs and relevant NGOs. The objective is to take a holistic approach and develop a national level strategy to eliminate illegal wildlife trade. Additionally, the question of what happens to confiscated live animals, and their parts and derivatives, is also being addressed as rescue and rehabilitation for sensitive species is critical.
  • Capacity building of law enforcement agencies

    WWF-Pakistan has been conducting several workshops training about 200 representatives of law enforcement agencies to combat the illegal wildlife trade in Pakistan. Participants of these events included law enforcers from the Provincial Wildlife and Forests Departments, Maritime Security Agency, Marine Fisheries Department, Provincial Police, academia, Antinarcotics Force Pakistan, Civil Aviation Authority, Airport Security Forces, Pakistan Customs officials as well as zoos, communities, logistic operators including DHL Pakistan. These events have set a perfect ground for the relevant law enforcement agencies to continue to collaborate in future which is critical to win against the wildlife crimes.
  • Enhancing knowledge and research

    WWF continues to explore various aspects of complex nature of illegal wildlife trade, its scale and its impact of the biodvieirtsy through various initiatives. Our studies have been instrumental to determine and highlight scale of illegal wildlife trade of freshwater turtles in Pakistan.
  • Awareness raising

    Opportunities to raise awareness are also not being missed, WWF-Pakistan has a multi-stakeholder approach to raise awareness on this transnational crime ranging from the law-enforcement agencies to logistics operators to general public and communities, a few targeted event which were recently conducted by the organization to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking are mentioned below;
    • World Wetlands Day was celebrated at Taunsa Barrage, a wildlife crime hotspot, with local communities, complete with street theatre performances and awareness talks.
    • World Migratory Bird’s Day
    • World Wildlife Day was celebrated with a documentary screening and engaging discussions with students from Virtual University, Lahore