- Theoretical Article
- Open Access
In the post-COVID-19 era, is the illegal wildlife trade the most serious form of trafficking?
Crime Science volume 10, Article number: 19 (2021)
Despite the immense impact of wildlife trafficking, comparisons of the profits, costs, and seriousness of crime consistently rank wildlife trafficking lower relative to human trafficking, drug trafficking and weapons trafficking. Using the published literature and current events, we make the case, when properly viewed within the context of COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases transmitted from wildlife, that wildlife trafficking is the most costly and perhaps the most serious form of trafficking. Our synthesis should raise awareness of the seriousness of wildlife trafficking for humans, thereby inducing strategic policy decisions that boost criminal justice initiatives and resources to combat wildlife trafficking.
Despite its apparent seriousness, wildlife trafficking ranks low in comparison to trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons when considering the relative crime costs, profits and seriousness (May, 2017). The source of complacency and the tepid societal response to the problem of wildlife trafficking may be rooted in societal perceptions of the harms linked to wildlife trafficking in comparison to other more notorious forms of trafficking (South & Wyatt, 2011; Wagner et al., 2019). Herein we make the case that wildlife trafficking, when properly viewed within the context of COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases transmitted from wildlife (e.g., SARS from civets), is the costliest and perhaps most serious form of trafficking, despite the seriousness of trafficking in humans, drugs, and weapons. Given that seven new coronaviruses have jumped from animals to humans since the 1960s (Cui et al., 2019), the likelihood is very high for future zoonotic epidemics and pandemics if ‘atypical’ human-wildlife contacts continue (Li et al., 2020). We discuss the lack of awareness and underestimation of the wildlife trafficking problem and the complexity of how to tackle trafficking, including pragmatic issues and cultural sensitivities.
Biodiversity, overexploitation and wildlife trafficking
Biodiversity loss is one of the most severe human-caused global environmental problems (Ceballos et al., 2017). Extinction has always been a feature of life on Earth, but the human domination of global ecosystems has caused a sharp rise in the rate of extinctions to far above pre-human levels (Barnosky et al., 2011; Johnson et al., 2017). Hundreds of species are going extinct annually, and queueing up behind them are immeasurable shrinking populations as we enter the earth’s sixth mass extinction (Barnosky et al., 2011; Ceballos et al., 2017; Dirzo et al., 2014; Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys 2019; Wagner, 2020; Young et al., 2016). Not only are we losing our natural heritage at an alarming rate, humans are reliant on biodiversity, and so by stripping the earth of its living resources we risk human suffering and catastrophe (Daily, 1997; Naeem et al., 2012). For example, biodiversity provides humans with clean air and water; food; mitigation from floods and droughts; detoxification and decomposition of wastes; soil generation, renewal and fertility; pollination of crops; pest control; medicines; climate control; and protection from climate extremes. Despite this dire situation, public awareness of the biodiversity crisis is alarmingly low (Ceballos et al., 2017).
The major global drivers of biodiversity loss are habitat loss and overexploitation, in that order, ahead of invasive species, climate change and pollution (Hoffmann et al., 2010; Maxwell et al., 2016; Ripple et al., 2017). Overexploitation, also known as overharvest, is typically defined as unsustainable exploitation of animals, plants and other organisms. The sale or exchange by people of these resources, overexploited or not, is the ‘wildlife trade’, which can range from local subsistence through small-scale income to large profit-oriented business. Wildlife is traded locally, nationally, regionally or internationally (WCS and Traffic 2004; Blundell & Mascia, 2005; Schlaepfer et al., 2005; Nijman & Shepherd, 2007). Some wildlife trading is legal and some illegal, with the latter referred to as wildlife trafficking, poaching, or wildlife crime. The proportion of the wildlife trading that is illicit is unknown but expected to be large; we are unsure because the very nature of wildlife trafficking is such that reliable data are difficult to obtain (Broad et al., 2003). There are related estimates: seized wildlife products and parts (~ 6 million) was 0.7% of magnitude of the legal trade (~ 900 million) of wildlife exported to the USA during 1979–2014 (Olsen et al., 2021). Uses of trafficked wildlife include traditional medicine, food, apparel, furnishings, pets, gardens and manufacturing (Broad et al., 2003). Wildlife trafficking occurs for a number of reasons including profit, exchange, subsistence, personal ownership, cultural or religious beliefs, or as a consequence of human-animal conflict (McFann & Pires, 2018).
Despite the lack of a comprehensive review, the effects of wildlife trafficking and overexploitation are abundant and widespread. In a sample of 362 species of large vertebrates (> 40 kg), Ripple et al., (2019) found that 59% are threatened with extinction and 70% are decreasing; the top (IUCN Red List) threat for each class was human consumption for meat or body parts, which was also a threat for 98% of all species. Freshwater megafauna (mainly fish > 30 kg in mass) populations for which there were sufficient data (N = 126 spp.) exhibited even larger declines (88%) over the last 40 years, with almost half exhibiting marked range contractions (He et al., 2019). In a meta-analysis of hunting trends across the world’s tropics, Benítez-López et al., (2017) found marked reduction in abundance of mammals (83%) and birds (58%) in hunted areas compared to areas without hunting. Overexploitation was the leading threat to ~ 8700 species of threatened or near-threatened species when logging was included (Maxwell et al., 2016) and overfishing has depleted marine life in similar ways (Halpern et al., 2008; Jackson, 2008; Jackson et al., 2001). Overexploitation is threatening iconic species such as whales, elephants, rhinoceros, and gorillas with extinction, but is also the principal threat to some less-conspicuous groups of animals (e.g., turtles and seahorses; Stanford et al., 2020; Vincent et al., 2011). The surge in demand for animals for Asian traditional medicine is exerting heavy tolls on wildlife and threaten many species with extinction (Ellis, 2013). For example, the exploitation of Asian bears for bile, which is used as a treatment for illness (Feng et al., 2009), is the leading cause of their decline (Fredriksson et al., 2008; Garshelis et al., 2008), and 101 species of primates are killed for traditional medicine and magic-religious rituals throughout the world, of which 64 are conservation-listed (Alves et al., 2010).
Wildlife trafficking and COVID-19
At the time of writing this paper, COVID-19, the human illness borne out of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (Zhou et al., 2020), has become a pandemic that has infected more than 128 million people and killed more than 2.8 million worldwide, with cases and deaths still on the rise (Worldometer Coronavirus Cases, 2021). Mental health issues and suicide are expected to increase during the pandemic (Gunnell et al., 2020; Lee, 2020), and many survivors are expected to face chronic health problems due to COVID-19. Direct medical (financial) costs in the U.S. alone will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of the pandemic (Bartsch et al., 2020). The world economic cost of COVID-19 is already in the trillions of dollars (Jones et al., 2020), and the world is currently in the worst recession since the Great Depression, based on the magnitude of negative GDP growth (Gopinath, 2020).
The current consensus is that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS CoV-2) ‘jumped’ from its likely natural reservoir in bats into humans via Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica, Fig. 1) in a wet market associated with most of the first human COVID-19 cases, in Wuhan, China (Huang et al., 2020; Li et al., 2020). Research revealed that Pangolin-CoV is 91% identical to both SARS-CoV-2 and to Bat-CoV RaTG13 (Zhang et al., 2020) at the whole-genome level, and a pangolin intermediate was corroborated by other research using genomics, amino acids and proteins (Lam et al., 2020; Lopes et al., 2020; Xiao et al., 2020).
Commercial trade in wild-caught Malayan pangolins has been illegal since 2000, and all species of pangolins are now CITES listed (Challender et al., 2015). Malayan and other species of pangolins are highly sought after in China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy, and their scales, blood and other body parts are used for traditional medicine to allegedly cure diseases and increase wealth (Zhou et al., 2014; Challender, 2011; Challender et al., 2015; Cheng et al., 2017). Thus, Malayan pangolins bearing the most recent ancestor of the novel coronavirus were illegally trafficked, inexorably linking COVID-19 with wildlife trafficking, forcing a reassessment of the costs of wildlife trafficking.
Illegal trafficking: pre-COVID-19 comparisons
When considering the comparative rankings of trafficking crimes regardless of whether they are ranked by illegal profits, economic and social costs, or seriousness, wildlife trafficking is consistently ranked lower than drug trafficking and human trafficking, and less serious than weapons trafficking (e.g., May, 2017; Fell et al., 2019; Forte et al., 2017). As we will argue, these rankings are important because they reflect the underestimation of the relative costs of wildlife trafficking for society. When using crime rankings of these forms of trafficking to impress upon society the gravity of these problems, crimes are commonly ranked by illegal profits, by economic and social costs, and by seriousness (see Table 1).
Trafficking crimes ranked by illegal profits
When ranking the various forms of trafficking by estimated annual profit, wildlife trafficking ($5–$23 billion) is ranked behind trafficking in drugs ($426–$652 billion) and persons ($150.2 billion) (May, 2017, see also, Haken, 2011; Lautensach and Lautensach, 2020; Warchol, 2004). Only weapon trafficking ($1.7–$3.5 billion) is ranked lower than wildlife trafficking in terms of profits (May, 2017; see also Clark 2020; Lautensach and Lautensach, 2020).
Trafficking crimes ranked by economic and social costs
Economic and social costs of crimes vary by country (Pūraitė, 2020). Crime impacts on the economy are measured by the expenditures for or damage to state and public security including defensive expenditures, costs related to law enforcement and judicial system, publicly-funded legal defense costs, and costs to the prison and probation services. Measures of crime costs also include ecological damage, property stolen, emotional and physical impact and reduced quality of life for victims, reduced labor effectiveness for those impacted by crime, costs to human health and welfare, economics, business order and state finances (Pūraitė, 2020). For example, human trafficking impacts communities by enabling the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases (Kloer, 2010) and threatens public security by generating enormous profits for terrorists, armed groups and criminal organizations (Okubo and Shelley 2011). In the case of drug trafficking, this crime may generate such a huge amount of illegal profits that its prominence deters investment and impairs the capacity of governments to promote sustainable economic growth (Van Dijk, 2007). Illegal wildlife trafficking, by removing wildlife, forest products and coastal resources, results in the loss of ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water filtration and flood retention with estimated annual cost of a staggering $2–$3 trillion (World Bank, 2020). Moreover, losses due to wildlife trafficking threaten benefits to humans (e.g., finding new medicines) and their livelihoods (e.g., local cultures and their economies). Most studies on the comparative costs of crime investigate the costs of street crime such as homicide, assault, sexual assault, burglary, and exclude costs of trafficking or organized crimes (Chalfin, 2015). One of the few comparative reports of economic and social costs of organized crime in the United Kingdom (UK) estimated that drug trafficking incurred annual costs to the UK of ₤20 billion, human trafficking incurred annual costs ₤2.3 billion, and costs of ₤190 million related to weapons trafficking (Fell et al., 2019). Wildlife trafficking was mentioned but the authors did not have the necessary data available to calculate an estimation of the economic and social costs. It is important to note that the single report covered here by Fell and colleagues (2019) is based on the organized crime costs to the UK, a developed demand-side country, and the effects of wildlife trafficking are more direct and larger for source countries of wildlife.
Trafficking crimes ranked by seriousness
Lastly, crime is often ranked by seriousness. Crime seriousness is most commonly grounded in public perception of the level of harm of the crime to persons and society as well as the wrongfulness of the crime (Wagner et al., 2019). In a study of perceptions of the seriousness of wildlife crime, researchers found that wildlife crime ranked as less serious, less wrong, and less harmful than personal crimes and property crimes (Wagner et al., 2019). Crime seriousness informs the allocation of resources and establishment of policy priorities and spending related to crime prevention and crime control (Adriaenssen et al., 2018). For example, a 2017 European Union (EU) study categorized the level of threat from serious and organized crimes. This study categorized drug trafficking, human trafficking, and online weapon trafficking as “priority crime threats” and “high threats” to the EU economy, while wildlife trafficking was categorized lower than the other types of trafficking. Wildlife trafficking was categorized as a “threat” but not a “high threat” or “priority crime threat” (Forte et al., 2017). The report of threat priorities do not simply inform the public but are used to direct EU priorities in the fight against serious and organized crime for next EU Policy Cycle from 2018 to 2021 (Forte et al., 2017).
When considering the comparative rankings of trafficking crimes regardless of whether they are ranked by illegal profits, economic and social costs, and seriousness, wildlife trafficking is consistently ranked lower than drug trafficking and human trafficking, and less serious than weapons trafficking (see Table 1). A better understanding of the costs and seriousness of wildlife trafficking is needed to better inform policy development. Without reliable data on the costs of wildlife trafficking, policymakers are unable to craft meaningful policies, and this can lead to erroneous conclusions about the efficacy of proposed policies. As will be discussed in the next section, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the world to the reality of the overwhelming costs and seriousness of wildlife trafficking.
Origin of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2): the link to wildlife trafficking
The current pandemic COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by the novel virus SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 is in the beta coronavirus group and is most commonly found in bats (Banerjee et al., 2019; Hampton, 2005; Li et al., 2005; Zhou et al., 2020). For example, SARS-CoV-2 shares 96% of its whole-genome identity with a bat coronavirus called BatCoV RaTG13 found in the intermediate horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus affinis) from the Yunnan Province, China (Zhou et al., 2020). Despite its parsimonious link with bat coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is likely to have made its way into a human host via an intermediate species because coronaviruses typically (e.g., SARS CoV and MERS) pass into intermediate hosts before leaping into humans (Cui et al., 2019). The virus in humans is thought to have originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China; 27 of the first 41 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were linked to the market (Huang et al., 2020; Li et al., 2020). The market closed on 1 January 2020, making it difficult to identify the intermediate vector; the market sold live, wild mammals, but not bats (Wong et al., 2020).
In October, 2019, around the time when COVID-19 was first reported, researchers using metagenomics detected a ‘new SARS-CoV-2-like’ coronavirus (named Pangolin-CoV) in two dead Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica), or scaly anteaters (Fig. 1), seized in China, that exhibited a frothy liquid in their lungs and pulmonary fibrosis (Liu et al., 2019). Subsequent research revealed that, at the whole-genome level, Pangolin-CoV is 91% identical to both SARS-CoV-2 and to Bat-CoV RaTG13 (Zhang et al., 2020). Moreover, the S1 protein of Pangolin-CoV was much more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 than to Bat-CoV RaTG13, and five key amino acid residues were 100% consistent with SARS-CoV-2, compared to 4 amino acid mutations in Bat-CoV RaTG13 (Zhang et al., 2020). Metagenomic sequencing of lung, intestine and blood samples from Malayan pangolins identified viral sequences that belong to two sub-lineages of HCoV-19-related coronaviruses, which including five critical residues on the receptor binding domain of the pangolin virus that are identical to SARS-CoV-2 (Lam et al., 2020). Moreover, further characterization of SARS-CoV-2 (Xiao et al., 2020) and a phylogenetic analysis of proteins that could form a species-specific barrier that interferes with bat-human transmission (Lopes et al., 2020) implicates Malayan pangolins as the intermediate host for SARS-CoV-2. Thus, although we are far from certain (Choo et al., 2020; Huang et al., 2020; Wong et al., 2020), the most likely transmission vector of SARS-CoV-2, based on current knowledge, was from bats to pangolins to humans.
The Malayan pangolin is one of eight species of pangolins (order Philodota) worldwide, including four species in southeast Asia and four species in Africa (Gaudin et al., 2009). Pangolins are medium-sized, mainly solitary, nocturnal mammals that feed almost exclusively on ants and termites (Macdonald et al., 2004). All eight species are highly sought after in China and Vietnam, where their meat is considered a delicacy, and their scales, blood and other body parts are used for traditional medicine to allegedly cure diseases and increase wealth (Challender, 2011; Challender et al., 2015; Zhou et al., 2014), despite no reliable evidence of the medicinal efficacy of their scales or other body parts (Cheng et al., 2017).
These apparent benefits have caused significant overexploitation in pangolins over the last few decades (Fig. 2) (Chaber et al., 2010; Challender & Hywood, 2012; Challender et al., 2020; Chin & Pantel, 2009; D’Cruze et al., 2018; Harrington et al., 2018; Heinrich et al., 2016; Katuwal et al., 2017; Mohapatra et al., 2015; Nijman et al., 2016; Zhang et al., 2017). Pangolins are vulnerable to overexploitation due to their low population densities and low rates or reproduction (Harrington et al., 2018; Mahmood et al., 2014, 2015; Pietersen et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2016). Commercial trade in wild-caught Malayan pangolins has been illegal since 2000, and all species of pangolins are now CITES listed (Challender et al., 2015). The Malayan pangolin is listed as Critically Endangered, while the other seven species have listings ranging from Vulnerable (the four African species) to Threatened or Endangered (the other three Asian species) (ICUN 2020). Despite these conservation listings, it is estimated that > 895,000 pangolins were illegally trafficked globally during 2000–2019 (Challender et al., 2020). Pangolins, as a result, are considered to be “the world’s most trafficked mammals” and “an icon of the illegal wildlife trade” (Aisher, 2016; Harrington et al., 2018). Trafficking from both African and Asian pangolins is predominately destined for China and Vietnam (Challender et al., 2020), and the illicit trade remains the key threat to survival in all pangolin species, despite impacts of local hunting and domestic use (Baillie et al., 2014; Challender et al., 2014b, c, Pietersen et al., 2014; Waterman et al., 2014; Challender et al., 2020).
SARS-CoV-2 is one of a multitude of human emerging infectious disease (EID) with its origin in non-human animals (zoonosis). The coronaviruses causing SARS (SARS-CoV) and MERS (MERS CoV), which killed ~ 700 and ~ 800 people and infected ~ 8000 and ~ 2500 people, respectively (Stadler et al., 2003; Zumla et al., 2015; Shehata et al., 2016; de Wit et al., 2016), originated from bats (the natural reservoir), but passed through the intermediate hosts of civets and camels, respectively (Guan et al., 2003; Zaki et al., 2012; Ge et al., 2013; Azhar et al., 2014; Kupferschmidt, 2014). Taylor et al., (2011) catalogued 1415 known human pathogens, of which 62% had zoonotic origin. Although domestic animals can be reservoirs, most zoonoses originate in wildlife (Allen et al., 2017; Greger, 2007; Karesh et al., 2012; Kruse et al., 2004; Wolfe et al., 2007). Notorious examples include HIV, Ebola, Rabies, West Nile, Malaria, bubonic plague, swine flu, bird flu, salmonella, anthrax, and typhus.
The increased exposure of humans to various trafficked wildlife species increases risks of new EIDs. For example, the myriad of unique combinations of illegally harvested wildlife in wet markets can promote host-jumping in potentially deadly pathogens. Moreover, while zoonosis related to local consumption in rural or remote areas can allow containment—for example, the Ebola virus in central Africa, trafficking wildlife into areas with dense human populations poses increased risks of uncontainable spread as seen in SARS-CoV-2. Wildlife trafficking thus brings a unique and potentially deadly vector for zoonosis. Given that there have been seven new coronaviruses to infect humans over the last ~ 50 years (Cui et al., 2019), it highly likely that there are more to come (Li et al., 2020).
To summarize, in the future, more new zoonotic viruses can be expected to jump into humans from bats or other animals via intermediate hosts, some of which will cause serious disease. Even if pangolins are not the intermediate host for COVID-19, they could very well transmit their strain of the virus (Pangolin CoV) to humans, as could other wild animals sold in wet markets. For example, animals that are susceptible to COVID-19 and thus carriers include cats, hamsters, ferrets, monkeys and tigers (reviewed in Wong et al., 2020). The odds of such zoonosis are greatly increased by human-animal interactions associated with wildlife trafficking (Li et al., 2020), given the unique combinations of animals and contact with humans in markets and probably along trafficking routes. Accordingly, the trend of increasing zoonotic virus emergence is expected to continue (WHO/FAO/OIE 2004). As early as 2003, the Institute of Medicine report on emerging infections suggested that without appropriate policies and actions, the future could bring a “catastrophic storm of microbial threats” (Smolinski et al., 2003). Of six major risk factors identified as driving emerging zoonoses (WHO/FAO/OIE 2004), wildlife trafficking includes four: the increasing demand for animal protein, long-distance live animal transport, live animal markets, and bushmeat consumption.
COVID-19 as collateral damage of wildlife trafficking
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected more than 184 million people and killed more than 4 million, worldwide (Worldometer Coronavirus Cases, 2021). At the time of writing, 6–9 thousand people are dying every day, worldwide (Worldometer Coronavirus Cases, 2021). Although daily death rates have leveled or are declining in many countries, they are increasing steadily in some countries such as Russia, Indonesia and Bangladesh (Worldometer Coronavirus Cases, 2021). Mental health issues and suicide are expected to increase during the pandemic (Gunnell et al., 2020; Lee, 2020); for example, an additional 10,000 persons committed suicide after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis (Reeves et al., 2014).
The world macroeconomic cost of COVID-19 is already in the trillions of dollars (Jones et al., 2020), and the world is currently in the worst recession since the Great Depression, based on the magnitude of negative GDP growth (Gopinath, 2020). For instance, the total cost of COVID-19 for the U.S., presuming its decline in Autumn 2021, has been estimated at 16 trillion dollars (Cutler & Summers, 2020). Direct medical (financial) costs in the U.S. alone will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the course of the pandemic (Bartsch et al., 2020; Hackett 2020). There are also microeconomic costs. For example, about 50% of ~ 10,000 survey participants reported household income and wealth losses, of which the averages were $5,293 and $33,482, respectively (Coibion 2020). Moreover, the costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are not just about the losses of lives and direct financial burden, but include opportunity costs (Ataguba, 2020). For example, removal of the ability to work will put a strain on families (Bonnet et al., 2019), and the pandemic may reduce funding for other critical health priorities such as communicable, nutritional and infectious diseases (Ataguba, 2020).
In comparison to the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic summarized above, the costs of trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons are relatively lower when using several available estimates. If costs are measured in human lives, COVID-19 deaths (4 million) overshadow the estimated 750,000 deaths linked directly or indirectly to illicit drug use (Global Burden of Disease Study, 2017) and the estimated 245,000 lives lost due to illegal firearms annually (INTERPOL 2017). However, all of these estimates are limited—there is no global data on indirect deaths—those deaths caused by disease and the lack of food, clean water and health care that result from wars facilitated by illegal weapons trafficking. Less is known about deaths related to human trafficking—with estimates as low as 2 homicides per year in Europe related to human trafficking (Walby et al., 2020). Other figures suggest, the lives lost due to human trafficking are much higher. For example, since 2014, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Missing Migrants Project has recorded the deaths of more than 32,000 people globally—these fatalities must include victims of human trafficking (Singleton, 2019). However, this number is likely a gross underestimate because the majority of migrant deaths around the world go unrecorded. Nevertheless, the number of lives lost due to trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons pales in comparison to the loss of life due to COVID-19.
If costs are measured in annual healthcare costs, in the U.S. illegal drug use is estimated to result in $11 billion in direct healthcare costs (National Drug Intelligence Center, 2011) and $3–$6 billion in annual healthcare costs are related to gun violence (Fransdottir & Butts, 2020). Annual healthcare costs for victims of trafficking in the U.S. is not available; however, increased usage of healthcare and social projection by victims of human trafficking in the 27 countries of the European Union (including the UK) is estimated to cost approximately EUR 20,749 per victim annually—extrapolated based on the number of registered (identified and presumed) human trafficking victims to total EUR 245 million annually (Walby et al., 2020). The actual number of human trafficking victims is likely to be significantly higher and the healthcare costs presented here are an underestimate. Even with recognition that these are likely underestimates of the true costs, the healthcare costs related to trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons are substantially lower when compared with the projected estimates of the direct healthcare cost related to COVID-19, which range from $163.4 billion to $546.6 billion in the U.S. (Bartsch et al., 2020; Hackett 2020), and in comparison to the estimated EUR 13.9 billion spent on direct healthcare costs of COVID-19 patients in the EU during the first wave of COVID-19 (January–June 2020) (Czernichow et al., 2021).
Given the gargantuan cost of COVID-19 to society, and the likelihood that wildlife trafficking was the vehicle for zoonosis of the COVID-19-causing pathogen, we contend that, overall, wildlife trafficking may be the most serious and costly form of trafficking (i.e., vs. humans, drugs, weapons). This conclusion is supported by the facilitation by wildlife trafficking of zoonosis for the SARS pathogen. Given the recent emergence of new coronaviruses and other zoonotic diseases (e.g., seven new coronaviruses since the 1960’s, Cui et al., 2019), we can expect future catastrophic, zoonotic pandemics to emerge if wildlife trafficking is allowed to continue to operate as per usual. Thus, a perfunctory or laissez-faire treatment of wildlife trafficking by governments will likely bear a future cost that far outweighs tackling wildlife trafficking at the present time.
Conclusion: awareness and policy changes going forward
Although it is not our intention here to review the myriad ways of addressing and combatting wildlife trafficking, the seriousness of the pandemic serves to refocus our attention on ways forward. Chief among these is raising awareness and education of wildlife trafficking’s damage to biodiversity and human society (Zhang et al., 2008), while at the same time understanding what factors drive the wildlife trade. Although wildlife has been traded illegally and fought for by conservationists for many decades, within criminology there are emerging subfields—“green”, “eco-global”, or “conservation” criminology—with shared concerns regarding environmentally damaging forms of criminality emphasizing that the degradation of the environment is ultimately more harmful to humans than street crime (e.g., Lynch, 1990; Carrabine et al., 2004; Bierne & South, 2007; White, 2009; Sollund 2016; Kurland & Pires, 2017; Sollund, 2019; South & Wyatt, 2011). Green criminology recognizes the role played by whole societies, including individuals, corporations and governments, in draining limited natural resources, and the associated negative consequences for humans, including causing environmental disasters (Lynch, 1990). Traditional conservationists continue to fight wildlife trafficking on the ground—often one species at a time—under the mantra that biodiversity is inherently valuable in its own right. But, biodiversity conservation is value-laden; much of society sees no inherent value for biodiversity beyond its use for, or effects on, humans. By revealing the profound damage wildlife trafficking inflicts upon human society, green criminology can help illuminate the role for a healthy biodiversity for human prosperity.
Recently, permanent bans on “wet markets” based in China have been proposed as a response to COVID-19. Policy makers that fervently endorse these measures have argued that wet markets serve as breeding grounds for wildlife trafficking, providing traffickers with easy access to exotic wildlife. Conversely, some have argued that philosophies behind bans are often rooted in xenophobic perceptions of second- and third-world countries, many of which accommodate diverse populations of people that, for generations, have built their livelihood through such means (Roe et al., 2020; Lee & Houston, 2020). Banning such spaces, they argue, may kindle cultural, economic, and environmental repercussions, with destitute communities bearing the brunt of such drastic decisions (Roe et al., 2020). Equally important to note is the cultural significance that wet markets sustain. Roe and colleagues (2020) explain that these spaces are prized in Chinese culture because of the freshness of the foodstuff. To reduce the demand for species with zoonotic potential, Western powers must first understand that attempts to change these attitudes may be perceived as insolent by Chinese persons because Western individuals are unlikely to recognize the significance of wildlife consumption in established Chinese customs (e.g., the use of pangolin scales for medicinal purposes) (Margulies et al., 2019; Zhu & Zhu, 2020). Demand reduction techniques rooted in Western values are not always culturally nuanced, and therefore, not well-received by consumers of Eastern cultures (Margulies et al., 2019). Motivations to change eating behaviors must be internalized by Chinese individuals and cannot stem strictly from external pressures such as sanctions imposed by international agencies with Western values.
Further, the utilization of celebrities in demand-reduction advertisements has long been perceived as a means of encouraging biodiversity conservation. Yet, awareness on wildlife trafficking should aim to communicate with audiences that anyone can contribute to this global problem; that is, conservation campaigns should refrain from promoting adverts with xenophobic undertones that target specific cultural groups, particularly populations of Asian heritage. Margulies and colleagues (2019) argue that traditional conservation campaigns have painted individuals of Asian backgrounds as unrestrained “super consumers” of exotic wildlife—a crucial point, considering the host of racist attitudes and hate crimes directed toward Asian communities during the span of COVID-19 (Gover et al., 2020). Public awareness campaigns should, then, refrain from pushing forth narratives influenced by Western customs at the expense of Eastern values.
The inclusion of celebrities revered in both, Western and Eastern countries could prove to be valuable in such campaigns. For instance, internationally acclaimed actor Jackie Chan and basketball star Yao Ming have long been involved in public media campaigns (such as those spearheaded by WildAid) that address the overconsumption and illicit trafficking of exotic and endangered animals (Ebiner, 2018; Galster et al., 2010). However, research is somewhat contradictory with regard to use of popular, non-expert socialites as a marketing technique for wildlife conservation. Duthie and colleagues (2017) found that celebrity involvement with conservation campaigns was more likely to attract attention from viewers relative to non-celebrity expert endorsement; however, viewers were more likely to retain marketed information if conservation experts primarily endorsed these campaigns. Additionally, viewers were more likely to engage with campaigns if they perceived that the celebrity was knowledgeable about and genuinely interested in the conservation issue (Duthie et al., 2017). Therefore, celebrity collaborations can be successful, provided that the message is culturally conscious, and therefore, more palatable to audiences of countries engaging in wildlife trafficking, and that celebrity-advocates are known to endorse similar views expressed by the conservation organization.
At the macro-level, policy aiming to combat wildlife trafficking must be strategic. For example, researchers have argued that enacting extreme policies that fail to see much of the ‘gray area’ of wildlife trafficking can drive the trade further underground, given evidence of corruption (Wyatt et al., 2018) and the extent of globalization in the internet age (Lavorgna, 2014; Sollund 2016). More specifically, if a previously legal animal becomes proscribed, but consumer demand remains high, supply chains for that specific animal may not cease, and may indeed increase (Sollund, 2016). Zoonoses can transpire anywhere, with many possible animal carriers (Eskew & Carlson, 2020); therefore, extreme policies must also take into account the possibility that these surreptitious networks may trigger a pandemic that may be difficult to track in origin and predict in transmission. Policy, then, must be strategic and target specific conditions; for example, surveilling large-scale wet markets (Zhu & Zhu, 2020); enforcing strict sanitary regulations that prevent overcrowding within these spaces and requiring adequate conditions for live animals (Roe et al., 2020); abolishing the trade of animals with particularly increased potential for zoonoses (e.g., pangolins and bats) (Aguirre et al., 2020); encouraging sustainable comestible alternatives if possible (Thomas-Walters et al., 2020); and investing in conservation projects aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture to reduce habitat loss among animals with zoonotic potential (Arora & Mishra, 2020; Roe et al., 2020). These policies should not apply solely to second- and third-world countries. Lee and Huston (2020) point out that meat processing plants in North America have facilitated the transmission of COVID-19 among such spaces; thus, policies should not overlook industrialized nations.
Our assertion—that wildlife trafficking has been elevated to the most serious of the big four trafficking types due to causing a pandemic—is our attempt to raise awareness about the seriousness of the effects of wildlife trafficking on society and biodiversity. We have not been comprehensive in our coverage of the effects of wildlife trafficking on biodiversity or on humans—others have accomplished that. In particular, our argument focuses on costs of wildlife trafficking to humans within the context of zoonoses. In crimes directly negatively impacting humans (e.g., human trafficking) the social costs include not only direct financial costs, but also costs associated with victim pain and suffering (Brand & Price, 2000; Cohen et al., 2004). The main victim in wildlife trafficking has been biodiversity; biodiversity suffers as species are harvested and trafficked, driving them towards extirpation and extinction. COVID-19, enabled by wildlife trafficking, has now victimized humans. Doubtless we have also not fully recognized synergistic effects of wildlife trafficking on humans and biodiversity. For example, some organized crime networks involved with wildlife trafficking have also been implicated in both drug and human trafficking (Rademeyer, 2012; Deflem, 2015; South & Wyatt, 2011). Collectively, to be sure, wildlife trafficking is much more serious than public consensus would affirm. It is a multibillion-dollar industry, and its transnational networks are a major contributor to the erosion of biodiversity and present a formidable and serious challenge to conservation. Perhaps a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, through collateral damage in the immense loss of life and innumerable costs to humans, will be a novel recognition of the seriousness of wildlife trafficking to biodiversity and thus, human society.
Availability of data and materials
Adriaenssen, A., Paoli, L., Karstedt, S., Visschers, J., Greenfield, V. A., & Pleysier, P. (2018). Public perceptions of the seriousness of crime: Weighing the harm and the wrong. European Journal of Criminology, 17(2), 127–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477370818772768
Aguirre, A. A., Catherina, R., Frye, H., & Shelley, L. (2020). Illicit wildlife trade, wet markets, and COVID-19: Preventing future pandemics. World Medical and Health Policy, 12(3), 256–265. https://doi.org/10.1002/wmh3.348
Aisher, A. (2016). Scarcity, alterity and value: Decline of the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal. Conservation and Society, 14(4), 317–329.
Allen, T., Murray, K. A., Zambrana-Torrelio, C., Morse, S. S., Rondinini, C., Di Marco, M., et al. (2017). Global hotspots and correlates of emerging zoonotic diseases. Nature Communications, 8(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-00923-8
Alves, R. R., Souto, W. M., & Barboza, R. R. (2010). Primates in traditional folk medicine: A world overview. Mammal Review, 40(2), 155–180. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2907.2010.00158.x
Arora, N. K., & Mishra, J. (2020). COVID-19 and importance of environmental sustainability. Environmental Sustainability, 3, 117–119. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42398-020-00107-z
Ataguba, J. E. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic, a war to be won: Understanding its economic implications for Africa. Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, 18, 325–328. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40258-020-00580-x
Azhar, E. I., El-Kafrawy, S. A., Farraj, S. A., Hassan, A. M., Al-Saeed, M. S., Hashem, A. M., & Madani, T. A. (2014). Evidence for camel-to-human transmission of MERS coronavirus. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(26), 2499–2505. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1401505
Baillie, J., Challender, D., Kaspal, P., Khatiwada, A., Mohapatra, R. and Nash, H. (2014). Manis crassicaudata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3.
Banerjee, A., Kulcsar, K., Misra, V., Frieman, M., & Mossman, K. (2019). Bats and coronaviruses. Viruses, 11(1), 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/v11020152
Barnosky, A. D., Matzke, N., Tomiya, S., Wogan, G. O., Swartz, B., Quental, T. B., et al. (2011). Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 471(7336), 51–57. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09678
Bartsch, S. M., Ferguson, M. C., McKinnell, J. A., O’Shea, K. J., Wedlock, P. T., Siegmund, S. S., & Lee, B. Y. (2020). The potential health care costs and resource use associated with COVID-19 In the United States: A simulation estimate of the direct medical costs and health care resource use associated with COVID-19 infections in the United States. Health Affairs, 39(6), 927–935. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00426
Benítez-López, A., Alkemade, R., Schipper, A. M., Ingram, D. J., Verweij, P. A., Eikelboom, J. A. J., et al. (2017). The impact of hunting on tropical mammal and bird populations. Science, 356(6334), 180–183.
Bierne, P., and South, N. (2007). Issues in green criminology: Confronting harms against the environment, humanity, and other animals. Willan.
Blundell, A. G., & Mascia, M. B. (2005). Discrepancies in reported levels of international wildlife trade. Conservation Biology, 19(6), 2020–2025. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2005.00253.x
Bonnet, F., Vanek, J., and Chen, M. (2019). Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture. WIEGO.
Brand, S., and Price, R. (2000). The economic and social costs of crime. Home Office Research Study Number 217. Home Office, London.
Broad, S., Mulliken, T., and Roe, D. (2003). The nature and extent of legal and illegal trade in wildlife. The trade in wildlife: regulation for conservation, 3–22.
Carrabine, E., Iganski, P., Lee, M., Plummer, K., and South, N. (2004). The greening of criminology. Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. Taylor and Francis.
Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. R., & Dirzo, R. (2017). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), E6089–E6096. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1704949114
Chaber, A. L., Allebone-Webb, S., Lignereux, Y., Cunningham, A. A., & Marcus Rowcliffe, J. (2010). The scale of illegal meat importation from Africa to Europe via Paris. Conservation Letters, 3(5), 317–321. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00121.x
Chalfin, A. (2015). Economic costs of crime. In W. G. Jennings (Ed.), The encyclopedia of crime and punishment. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118519639.wbecpx193.
Challender, D. W. (2011). Asian pangolins: Increasing affluence driving hunting pressure. Traffic Bulletin, 23(3), 92–93.
Challender, D. W. S., & Hywood, L. (2012). African pangolins under increased pressure from poaching and intercontinental trade. Traffic Bulletin, 24(2), 53–55.
Challender, D., Baillie, J., Ades, G., Kaspal, P., Chan, B., Khatiwada, A., et al., (2014). Manis pentadactyla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Challender, D. W., Harrop, S. R., & MacMillan, D. C. (2015). Understanding markets to conserve trade-threatened species in CITES. Biological Conservation, 187, 249–259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.04.015
Challender, D. W., Nash, H. C., Waterman, C., and Hoffmann, R. (2020). Taking pangolin conservation to scale. Pangolins (pp. 609–613). Academic Press.
Cheng, W., Xing, S., & Bonebrake, T. C. (2017). Recent pangolin seizures in China reveal priority areas for intervention. Conservation Letters, 10(6), 757–764. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12339
Chin, S. Y. and Pantel, S. (2009). Pangolin capture and trade in Malaysia. In Pantel, S. and Chin, S. Y. (Eds.), Proceedings of the workshop on trade and conservation of Pangolins native to south and southeast Asia, 30 June-2 July 2008, Singapore zoo, Singapore. TRAFFIC, 138–157.
Choo, S. W., Zhou, J., Tian, X., Zhang, S., Qiang, S., O’Brien, S. J., Tan, K. Y., Platto, S., Koepfli, K. P., Antunes, A., & Sitam, F. T. (2020). Are pangolins scapegoats of the COVID-19 outbreak-CoV transmission and pathology evidence? Conservation Letters, 13(6), e12754.
Cohen, M. A., Rust, R. T., Steen, S., & Tidd, S. T. (2004). Willingness-to-pay for crime control programs. Criminology, 42(1), 89–110. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00514.x.
Coibion, O., Gorodnichenko, Y., and Weber, M. (2020). The Cost of the COVID-19 Crisis: Lockdowns, Macroeconomic Expectations, and Consumer Spending, CESifo Working Paper, No. 8292. Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute (CESifo), Munich.
Cui, J., Li, F., & Shi, Z. L. (2019). Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 17(3), 181–192. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-018-0118-9
Cutler, D. M., & Summers, L. H. (2020). The COVID-19 Pandemic and the $16 Trillion Virus. JAMA, 324(15), 1495–1496.
Czernichow, S., Bain, S. C., Capehorn, M., Bøgelund, M., Madsen, M. E., Yssing, C., et al. (2021). Costs of the COVID-19 pandemic associated with obesity in Europe: A health-care cost model. Clinical Obesity, 11(2), e12442. https://doi.org/10.1111/cob.12442
Daily, G. C. (1997). Nature’s services (Vol. 3). Island Press.
D’Cruze, N., Singh, B., Mookerjee, A., Harrington, L. A., & Macdonald, D. W. (2018). A socio-economic survey of pangolin hunting in Assam, Northeast India. Nature Conservation, 30, 83–105. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.30.27379
Deflem, M. (2015). Interpol. The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, 1–4.
De Wit, E., Van Doremalen, N., Falzarano, D., & Munster, V. J. (2016). SARS and MERS: Recent insights into emerging coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 14(8), 523.
Dirzo, R., Young, H. S., Galetti, M., Ceballos, G., Isaac, N. J., & Collen, B. (2014). Defaunation in the anthropocene. Science, 345(6195), 401–406. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1251817
Duthie, E., Veríssimo, D., Keane, A., & Knight, A. T. (2017). The effectiveness of celebrities in conservation marketing. PLoS ONE, 12(7), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180027
Ebiner, J. S. (2018). Wildlife trafficking: How effective are state-centric and non-governmental approaches in promoting conservation efforts? Undergraduate Journal of Political Science, 3(1), 8–20.
Ellis, R. (2013). Tiger bone and rhino horn: The destruction of wildlife for traditional Chinese medicine. Island Press.
Eskew, E. A., & Carlson, C. J. (2020). Overselling wildlife trade bans will not bolster conservation or pandemic preparedness. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(6), E215–E216. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30123-6
Fell, E., James, O., Dienes, H., Shah, N., and Grimshaw, J. (2019). Understanding Organized Crime 2015/16: Estimating the Scale and the Social and Economic Costs. Research Report 103. London: Home Office.
Feng, Y., Siu, K., Wang, N., Ng, K. M., Tsao, S. W., Nagamatsu, T., & Tong, Y. (2009). Bear bile: Dilemma of traditional medicinal use and animal protection. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 5(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-5-2
Forte, E., Schotte, T., & Strupp, S. (2017). Serious and organised crime in the EU: The EU serious and organised crime threat assessment (SOCTA) 2017. European Police Science and Research Bulletin, 16, 13–26.
Fransdottir, E. S., and Butts, J. A. (2020). Who Pays for Gun Violence? You do. John Jay College of Criminal Justice. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1418&context=jj_pubs. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Fredriksson, G., Steinmetz, R., Wong, S., Garshelis, D. (2008). Bear Specialist Group, Helarctos malayanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Galster, S., Schaedla, W., and Redford, T. (2010). Partnering to stop poaching: Developing cross-sector strategic responses to wildlife poaching. In Tigers of the World (pp. 113–124). William Andrew Publishing.
Gaudin, T. J., Emry, R. J., & Wible, J. R. (2009). The phylogeny of living and extinct pangolins (Mammalia, Pholidota) and associated taxa: A morphology based analysis. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 16(4), 235. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10914-009-9119-9
Ge, X. Y., Li, J. L., Yang, X. L., Chmura, A. A., Zhu, G., Epstein, J. H., et al. (2013). Isolation and characterization of a bat SARS-like coronavirus that uses the ACE2 receptor. Nature, 503(7477), 535–538. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12711
Garshelis, D. L., Hao, W., Dajun, W., Xiaojian, Z., Sheng, L., & McShea, W. J. (2008). Do revised giant panda population estimates aid in their conservation. Ursus, 19(2), 168–176.
Global Burden of Disease Study. (2017). Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Data Resources. http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-2017. Accessed 7 July 2021.
Gopinath, G. (2020). IMF: New predictions suggest a deeper recession and a slower recovery. In The World Economic Forum COVID Action Platform (Vol. 25).
Gover, A. R., Harper, S. B., & Langton, L. (2020). Anti-Asian hate crime during the COVID-19 pandemic: Exploring the reproduction of inequality. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(4), 647–667.
Greger, M. (2007). The human/animal interface: Emergence and resurgence of zoonotic infectious diseases. Critical Reviews in Microbiology, 33(4), 243–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408410701647594
Guan, Y., Zheng, B. J., He, Y. Q., Liu, X. L., Zhuang, Z. X., Cheung, C. L., et al. (2003). Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animals in southern China. Science, 302(5643), 276–278. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1087139
Gunnell, D., Appleby, L., Arensman, E., Hawton, K., John, A., Kapur, N., et al. (2020). Suicide risk and prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(6), 468–471. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30171-1
Hackett, M. (November 5, 2020). Average cost of hospital care for COVID-19 ranges from $51,000 to $78,000, based on age. Healthcare Finance. https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/average-cost-hospital-care-covid-19-ranges-51000-78000-based-age. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Haken, J. (2011). Transnational crime in the developing world. Washington: Global Financial Integrity.
Halpern, B. S., Walbridge, S., Selkoe, K. A., Kappel, C. V., Micheli, F., D’Agrosa, C., et al. (2008). A global map of human impact on marine ecosystems. Science, 319(5865), 948–952. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1149345
Hampton, T. (2005). Bats may be SARS reservoir. JAMA, 294(18), 2291. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.294.18.2291
Harrington, L. A., D’Cruze, N., & Macdonald, D. (2018). Rise to fame: Events, media activity and public interest in pangolins and pangolin trade, 2005–2016. Nature Conservation, 30, 107. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.30.28651
He, F., Zarfl, C., Bremerich, V., David, J. N., Hogan, Z., Kalinkat, G., Tockner, K., & Jähnig, S. C. (2019). The global decline of freshwater megafauna. Global Change Biology, 25(11), 3883–3892. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14753
Heinrich, S., Wittmann, T. A., Prowse, T. A., Ross, J. V., Delean, S., Shepherd, C. R., & Cassey, P. (2016). Where did all the pangolins go? International CITES trade in pangolin species. Global Ecology and Conservation, 8, 241–253.
Hoffmann, M., Hilton-Taylor, C., Angulo, A., Böhm, M., Brooks, T. M., Butchart, S. H., et al. (2010). The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates. Science, 330(6010), 1503–1509. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1194442
Huang, X., Zhang, C., Pearce, R., Omenn, G. S., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Identifying the zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2 by modeling the binding affinity between the spike receptor-binding domain and host ACE2. Journal of Proteome Research., 19(12), 4844–4856. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jproteome.0c00717
International Criminal Organization (INTERPOL). (2017). iARMS: Illicit arms records and tracing management system. https://www.interpol.int/en/Crimes/Firearms-trafficking/Illicit-Arms-Records-and-tracing-Management-System-iARMS. Accessed 11 July 2021.
IUCN. (2020). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2020-1. https://www.iucnredlist.org
Jackson, J. B. (2008). Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105, 11458–11465. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0802812105
Jackson, J. B. C., Kirby, M. X., Berger, W. H., Bjorndal, K. A., Botsford, L. W., Bourque, B. J., et al. (2001). Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science, 293(5530), 629–637.
Johnson, C. N., Balmford, A., Brook, B. W., Buettel, J. C., Galetti, M., Guangchun, L., & Wilmshurst, J. M. (2017). Biodiversity losses and conservation responses in the Anthropocene. Science, 356(6335), 270–275.
Jones, A., Sergejeff, K., Sherriff, A., Teevan, C., & Veron, P. (2020). The challenge of scaling up the European Union’s global response to COVID-19’. ECDPM brief. April.
Karesh, W. B., Dobson, A., Lloyd-Smith, J. O., Lubroth, J., Dixon, M. A., Bennett, M., et al. (2012). Ecology of zoonoses: Natural and unnatural histories. The Lancet, 380(9857), 1936–1945. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61678-X
Katuwal, H. B., Sharma, H. P., & Parajuli, K. (2017). Anthropogenic impacts on the occurrence of the critically endangered Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) in Nepal. Journal of Mammalogy, 98(6), 1667–1673. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyx114
Kloer, A. (2010). Sex trafficking and HIV/AIDS: A deadly junction for women and girls. Human. Rights, 37, 8.
Kruse, H., Kirkemo, A. M., & Handeland, K. (2004). Wildlife as source of zoonotic infections. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 10(12), 2067. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid1012.040707
Kurland, J., & Pires, S. F. (2017). Assessing US wildlife trafficking patterns: How criminology and conservation science can guide strategies to reduce the illegal wildlife trade. Deviant Behavior, 38(4), 375–391. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2016.1197009
Kupferschmidt, K. (2014). The camel connection. Science, 343(6178), 1422–1425. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.343.6178.1422
Lam, T.T.Y., Jia, N., Zhang, Y.W., Shum, M.H.H., Jiang, J.F., Zhu, H.C., et al., (2020). Identifying SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Nature, 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2169-0.
Lautensach and Lautensach (2020). Transnational Crime. Human Security in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities (2nd edition). https://opentextbc.ca/humansecurity/chapter/transnational-crime/. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Lavorgna, A. (2014). Wildlife trafficking in the Internet age. Crime Science, 3(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-014-0005-2
Lee, S. A. (2020). Coronavirus Anxiety Scale: A brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety. Death Studies, 44(7), 393–401. https://doi.org/10.1080/07481187.2020.1748481
Lee, A., & Houston, A. R. (2020). Diets, diseases, and discourse: Lessons from COVID-19 for trade in wildlife, public health, and food systems reform. Food Ethics, 5(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41055-020-00075-4
Li, W. D., Shi, Z. L., Yu, M., Ren, W. Z., Smith, C., Epstein, J. H., et al. (2005). Bats are natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. Science, 310(5748), 676–679.
Li, X., Song, Y., Wong, G., & Cui, J. (2020). Bat origin of a new human coronavirus: there and back again. Science China Life Sciences, 63(3), 461–462. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-020-1645-7.
Liu, P., Chen, W., & Chen, J. P. (2019). Viral metagenomics revealed Sendai virus and coronavirus infection of Malayan pangolins (Manis javanica). Viruses, 11(11), 979. https://doi.org/10.3390/v11110979
Lopes, L. R., de MattosCardillo, G., & Paiva, P. B. (2020). Molecular evolution and phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 and hosts ACE2 protein suggest Malayan pangolin as intermediary host. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, 51(4), 1593–1599. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42770-020-00321-1
Lynch, M. J. (1990). The greening of criminology: A perspective for the 1990s. The Critical Criminologist, 2(3), 11–12.
Macdonald, D. W., Creel, S., and Mills, M. G. (2004). Canid society. The biology and conservation of wild canids, 85–106.
Mahmood, T., Andleeb, S., Anwar, M., Rais, M., Nadeem, M. S., Akrim, F., & Hussain, R. (2015). Distribution, abundance and vegetation analysis of the Scaly Anteater (Manis crassicaudata) in Margalla Hills National Park Islamabad, Pakistan. The Journal of Animal and Plant Sciences, 25(5), 1311–1321.
Mahmood, T., Irshad, N., & Hussain, R. (2014). Habitat preference and population estimates of Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in District Chakwal of Potohar Plateau, Pakistan. Russian Journal of Ecology, 45(1), 70–75. https://doi.org/10.1134/S1067413614010081
Margulies, J. D., Wong, R. W., & Duffy, R. (2019). The imaginary ‘Asian Super Consumer’: A critique of demand reduction campaigns for the illegal wildlife trade. Geoforum, 107, 216–219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.10.005
May, K. (2017). Law enforcement and its inadequate training on human trafficking in the Tampa Bay region (Publication No. 10638134) [Doctoral Dissertation, Northcentral University]. ProQuest Dissertation Publishing.
Maxwell, S. L., Fuller, R. A., Brooks, T. M., & Watson, J. E. (2016). Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers. Nature News, 536(7615), 143.
McFann, S. C., & Pires, S. F. (2018). Taking stock in wildlife crime research: trends and implications for future research. Deviant Behavior, 14, 118–135.
Mohapatra, R. K., Panda, S., Acharjyo, L. N., Nair, M. V., & Challender, D. W. (2015). A note on the illegal trade and use of pangolin body parts in India. Traffic Bulletin, 27(1), 33–40.
National Drug Intelligence Center. (2011). National drug threat assessment. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs44/44849/44849p.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Naeem, S., Duffy, J. E., & Zavaleta, E. (2012). The functions of biological diversity in an age of extinction. Science, 336(6087), 1401–1406. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1215855
Nijman, V., & Shepherd, C. R. (2007). Trade in non-native, CITES-listed, wildlife in Asia, as exemplified by the trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises (Chelonidae) in Thailand. Contributions to Zoology, 76(3), 207–212.
Nijman, V., Zhang, M. X., & Shepherd, C. R. (2016). Pangolin trade in the Mong La wildlife market and the role of Myanmar in the smuggling of pangolins into China. Global Ecology and Conservation, 5, 118–126. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2015.12.003
Okubo, S., and Shelley, L. (Eds.). (2011). Human security, transnational crime and human trafficking: Asian and western perspectives (Vol. 6). Routledge.
Olsen, M. T. B., Geldmann, J., Harfoot, M., Tittensor, D. P., Price, B., Sinovas, P., et al. (2019). Thirty-six years of legal and illegal wildlife trade entering the USA. Oryx, 55, 431–442.
Pietersen, D. W., McKechnie, A. E., & Jansen, R. (2014). Home range, habitat selection and activity patterns of an arid-zone population of Temminck’s ground pangolins, Smutsia Temminckii. African Zoology, 49(2), 265–276. https://doi.org/10.1080/15627020.2014.11407642
Pūraitė, A. (2020). Economic impact of organised crime to state security. Problems of Legality, 149, 185–199. https://doi.org/10.21564/2414-990x.149.201728
Rademeyer, J. (2012). Killing for profit: exposing the illegal rhino horn trade. Cape Town, South Africa: Zebra Press.
Reeves, A., McKee, M., & Stuckler, D. (2014). Economic suicides in the great recession in Europe and North America. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 205(3), 246–247. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.114.144766
Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Hoffmann, M., Wirsing, A. J., & McCauley, D. J. (2017). Extinction risk is most acute for the world’s largest and smallest vertebrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(40), 10678–10683. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1702078114
Ripple, W. J., Ceballos, G., Wallach, A. D., Wolf, C., Courchamp, F., Worm, B., et al. (2019). Are we eating the world’s megafauna to extinction? Conservation Letters, 12(3), e12627. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12627
Roe, D., Dickman, A., Kock, R., Milner-Gulland, E. J., & Rihoy, E. (2020). Beyond banning wildlife trade: COVID-19, conservation and development. World Development, 136, 105121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105121
Sánchez-Bayo, F., & Wyckhuys, K. A. (2019). Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation, 232, 8–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.020
Schlaepfer, M. A., Hoover, C., & Dodd, C. K. (2005). Challenges in evaluating the impact of the trade in amphibians and reptiles on wild populations. BioScience, 55(3), 256–264. https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2005)055[0256:CIETIO]2.0.CO;2
Shehata, M. M., Gomaa, M. R., Ali, M. A., & Kayali, G. (2016). Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus: A comprehensive review. Frontiers of Medicine, 10(2), 120–136. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11684-016-0430-6
Singleton, A. (Ed.) (2019). Fatal Journeys 4: Missing Migrant Children. IOM. https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/fatal_journeys_4.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Smolinski, M. S., Hamburg, M. A., and Lederberg, J. (2003). Microbial threats to health: Emergence, detection and response. The National Academies Press.
Sollund, R. (2016). The animal other: Legal and illegal theriocide. In M. Hall, T. Wyatt, N. South, A. Nurse, G. Potter, & J. Maher (Eds.), Greening criminology in the 21st century (pp. 93–113). Routledge.
Sollund, R. A. (2019). The crimes of wildlife trafficking: Issues of justice, legality and morality. Routledge.
South, N., & Wyatt, T. (2011). Comparing illicit trades in wildlife and drugs: An exploratory study. Deviant Behavior, 32(6), 538–561. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2010.483162
Stadler, K., Masignani, V., Eickmann, M., Becker, S., Abrignani, S., Klenk, H. D., & Rappuoli, R. (2003). SARS—beginning to understand a new virus. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 1(3), 209–218. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro775
Stanford, C. B., Iverson, J. B., Rhodin, A. G., van Dijk, P. P., Mittermeier, R. A., Kuchling, G., et al. (2020). Turtles and tortoises are in trouble. Current Biology, 30(12), R721–R735. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.088
Taylor, L. H., Latham, S. M., & Woolhouse, M. E. (2011). Risk factors for human disease emergence. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 356, 983–989.
Thomas-Walters, L., Veríssimo, D., Gadsby, E., Roberts, D., & Smith, R. J. (2020). Taking a more nuanced look at behavior change for demand reduction in the illegal wildlife trade. Conservation Science and Practice, 2(9), e248. https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.248
Van Dijk, J. (2007). The world of crime: Breaking the silence on problems of security, justice and development across the world. Sage Publications.
Vincent, A. C. J., Foster, S. J., & Koldewey, H. J. (2011). Conservation and management of seahorses and other Syngnathidae. Journal of Fish Biology, 78(6), 1681–1724.
Wagner, D. L. (2020). Insect declines in the Anthropocene. Annual Review of Entomology, 65, 457–480. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ento-011019-025151
Wagner, K., Owen, S., & Burke, T. W. (2019). Not wild about wildlife protection? The perceived harmfulness, wrongfulness, and seriousness of wildlife crimes. Society and Animals, 27(4), 383–402. https://doi.org/10.1163/15685306-12341589
Walby, S., Bell, P., Bowstead, J., Feder, G., Fraser, A., Herbert, A., et al., (2020). Study on the economic, social and human costs of trafficking in human beings within the EU. European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/sites/antitrafficking/files/study_on_the_economic_social_and_human_costs_of_trafficking_in_human_beings_within_the_eu.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2021.
Warchol, G. L. (2004). The transnational illegal wildlife trade. Criminal Justice Studies, 17(1), 57–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/08884310420001679334
Waterman, C., Pietersen, D., Hywood, L., Rankin, P., & Soewu, D. (2014). Smutsia gigantea. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014. e.T12762A45222061.
WCS, Traffic. (2004). Hunting and wildlife trade in Asia. Wildlife Conservation Society.
White, R. (2009). Researching transnational environmental harm: Toward an eco-global criminology. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 33(2), 229–248. https://doi.org/10.1080/01924036.2009.9678807
World Health Organization. (2004). Report of the WHO/FAO/OIE joint consultation on emerging zoonotic diseases (No. WHO/CDS/CPE/ZFK/2004.9). https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/68899/WHO_CDS_CPE_ZFK_2004.9.pdf
Wolfe, N. D., Dunavan, C. P., & Diamond, J. (2007). Origins of major human infectious diseases. Nature, 447(7142), 279–283. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05775
Wong, Y. C., Lau, S. Y., Wang To, K. K., Mok, B. W. Y., Li, X., Wang, P., et al., (2020). Natural transmission of bat-like SARS-CoV-2Δ PRRA variants in COVID-19 patients. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
World Bank. (2020). https://www.worldbank.org/
Worldometer Coronavirus Cases. (2021). https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
Wyatt, T., Johnson, K., Hunter, L., George, R., & Gunter, R. (2018). Corruption and wildlife trafficking: Three case studies involving Asia. Asian Journal of Criminology, 13(1), 35–55. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11417-017-9255-8
Xiao, K., Zhai, J., Feng, Y., Zhou, N., Zhang, X., Zou, J. J., et al. (2020). Isolation of SARS-CoV-2-related coronavirus from Malayan pangolins. Nature, 583(7815), 1–4. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2169-0
Young, H. S., McCauley, D. J., Galetti, M., & Dirzo, R. (2016). Patterns, causes, and consequences of anthropocene defaunation. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 47, 333–358. https://doi.org/10.1146/annrev-ecolsys-112414-054142
Zaki, A. M., Van Boheemen, S., Bestebroer, T. M., Osterhaus, A. D., & Fouchier, R. A. (2012). Isolation of a novel coronavirus from a man with pneumonia in Saudi Arabia. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(19), 1814–1820. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1211721
Zhang, F., Wu, S., Zou, C., Wang, Q., Li, S., & Sun, R. (2016). A note on captive breeding and reproductive parameters of the Chinese pangolin, Manis pentadactyla Linnaeus, 1758. ZooKeys, 618, 129. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.618.8886
Zhang, L., Hua, N., & Sun, S. (2008). Wildlife trade, consumption and conservation awareness in southwest China. Biodiversity and Conservation, 17(6), 1493–1516. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-008-9358-8
Zhang, M., Gouveia, A., Qin, T., Quan, R., & Nijman, V. (2017). Illegal pangolin trade in northernmost Myanmar and its links to India and China. Global Ecology and Conservation, 10, 23–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2017.01.006
Zhang, T., Wu, Q., & Zhang, Z. (2020). Probable pangolin origin of SARS-CoV-2 associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. Current Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.022
Zhou, P., Lou, Y. X., Wang, X. G., Hu, B., Zhang, L., & Zhang, W. (2020). A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature, 579(7798), 270–273. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2012-7
Zhou, Z. M., Zhou, Y., Newman, C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2014). Scaling up pangolin protection in China. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12(2), 97–98. https://doi.org/10.1890/14.WB.001
Zhu, A., & Zhu, G. (2020). Understanding China’s wildlife markets: Trade and tradition in an age of pandemic. World Development, 136, 105–108. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105108
Zumla, A., Hui, D. S., & Perlman, S. (2015). Middle East respiratory syndrome. The Lancet, 386(9997), 995–1007. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60454-8
We thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
No outside funding was used to support this work.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
About this article
Cite this article
Doody, J.S., Reid, J.A., Bilali, K. et al. In the post-COVID-19 era, is the illegal wildlife trade the most serious form of trafficking?. Crime Sci 10, 19 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40163-021-00154-9
- Wildlife trafficking
- Cost of crime