“Wildlife smuggling has links with terrorism, certainly out in Africa with the ivory and rhino poaching,” said British investigator Tim Luffman when the UK Border Force nabbed some wildlife smugglers in June. “On a global scale we’re talking about a huge amount of money and it goes hand in hand with other criminality.”

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $19 billion and it’s expanding. This is why next year’s World Environment Day will focus on the menace. Although, there has been improved awareness over the years, much has been directed towards illegal ivory trade. But elephants and rhinoceros are not the only animal species threatened by the activities of daredevil wildlife traders, every animal that commands a fee on the black market does.

In September, the killer of famous lion Cecil, was arrested for attempting to smuggle 30 sables to South Africa from Zimbabwe. Also in September, three South Africans were caught by Zambian authorities trying to smuggle 29 sables. Six South Africans and a Zimbabwean were also arrested, in October, for trying to smuggle 12 sable antelopes.

Smugglers go through serious danger trying to move wildlife from one place to the other.  Many end up dead, others in prison. It makes one wonder why they expose themselves to such danger. The reason is simple: money. Wildlife is very lucrative on the black market. Some animals are even worth thousands of dollars when dead.

Global black market information website, Havocscope lists the prices of some exotic animals, based on publicly available information. The prices show why a wildlife smuggler would not think of the dangers of his job. There is also a readily available market, usually Asia, where wildlife of different types are either bought for medical reasons or as status symbol.

One of the most important animals on the black market is the tiger. A dead tiger costs $5,000 while a live tiger costs 10 times more. A baby tiger costs $3,200 while tiger bone costs $2,000. Its penis costs $1,300 while its remains may sell as high as $70,000 in China and its skin, $35,000.

Snake venom can also make an illegal wildlife trader very rich in a short period. A litre costs $215,175. Bear bile costs $200,000 per pound. The bladder of the totoaba fish costs $200,000 in China. Gorillas cost $400,000. The scales of Pangolin, the most hunted and trafficked mammal, cost $3,000 per kilogram. Polar bear skin can cost up to $9,000.

If you think these are hard to get, what about tortoises that cost $10,000 in Madagascar?

Orangutan costs $45,000. Ivory sells at $850 per kilogramme [Check others here]. With such prices for these free gifts of nature, the reason for the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade is obvious. Across Africa, more elephants have been killed in recent years than have died of natural causes, and for forest elephants in Central and West Africa, the population declined by an estimated 60 percent between 2002 and 2011.  At this rate, if nothing is done, some animal species are doomed for extinction. The United Nations, therefore, resolved this year, that illegal wildlife trade be treated as a serious crime both nationally and across borders. Angola is revising its Penal Code to bring in tougher punishments for poachers, just as other countries across the continent are working hard to block trade routes and arrest offenders.

The fight is going to be harder going forward, as traders will become more notorious as they try to resist efforts to stop them. The kind of money involved in illegal wildlife trade shows it is no business for ordinary people, it’s a trade where mafia rules and a network can be more organized than a drug cartel.

The Nerve Africa