Illegal Wildlife Trade: The 15-billion-dollar industry that kills to survive

Informative Article

38 million wild animals are poached every year in Brazil alone. But, why does this happen?

by Kiersten Ngeow

Illegal wildlife trade. It’s the world’s 4th largest illegal trade, following drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeiting. Worth an estimated 15 billion dollars annually, illegal wildlife trade has made immense profits. But at what cost?

Due to the demand of wildlife products, millions of animals have been murdered and face extinction. One such tragic case is the black rhino, being systematically hunted to extinction by the poachers.

But why does this happen?

The demand for wildlife products comes from their affiliation with immense wealth and status, along with the belief in their “medicinal” properties. For example, rhinos are targeted for their horns as medicine for a variety of illnesses, ranging from the fever to even cancer. However, this belief is false, as rhinoceros horns are made out of keratin—the same material that make up our own hair and nails.

Despite this, pound for pound, rhino horns are significantly more valuable than gold.

According to the Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation, a rhino horn can cost up to $100,000 per kg. In comparison, gold is only valued at $36,968 per kg. This means that poaching is an incredibly lucrative business — even if it is through illegal means. But, does that mean it should be done? This is where our Trilemma is presented: Does the value of the illegal wildlife trade industry outweigh the lives of endangered species? Or is there a neutral stance?


Imagine this. You’re in a position of poverty, where there is a lack of employment opportunities. Everyday is a struggle for survival due to lack of food and resources. Despite this, you try to survive the day, even though it seems quite impossible to make ends meet.

Then you hear about poaching. The idea of being able to hunt down animals and make a fortune in a short amount of time. The only catch—it is not only dangerous to poach, but it is illegal. And worst of all, you know many of these species are already facing extinction.

For some poachers, this is their reality. Driven by desperation, hunger, and unemployment, they seek to make ends meet—even if it is through illegal means.

From the video “Confessions of a Rhino Poacher”, the poacher under the pseudonym “Z” explains how personal circumstances led him to become a poacher. “I poach because of circumstances. There is no work, no money and no food. That is why I poach.”

But not all poachers are driven by such dire needs.

In the