Science

Sale of illegal wildlife products: The 10 most traded species

These species are facing the risk of extinction as a result of illicit trading.

A report by WWF has warned huge volumes of endangered wildlife products are being traded illegally in South East Asia’s Golden Triangle as traditional medicine ingredients – to treat a range of ailments from asthma to arthritis and even cancer.

Here are the 10 most-traded endangered species facing the risk of extinction as a result of the illicit trading, according to the conservation charity.

Pangolin

A Cape pangolin. Pangolins feature on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(WWF)

Believed to be the most illegally traded mammal in the world, all eight pangolin species are protected under national and international laws.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam and its scales are used in folk remedies to treat ailments such as asthma, rheumatism and arthritis.

Tiger

Tigers, which feature on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(WWF)

The Golden Triangle – which is home to around 200 wild tigers – has become a hub of the tiger trade where parts are sold as decoration, medicine and wine.

Burma’s Mong La market is especially notorious for tiger trade, where tourists flock to buy traditional medicines with unproven benefits.

Elephants

Confiscated objects made with elephant skin at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Repository in Colorado. Elephants feature on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(Jamie Cotten/WWF)

As well as meeting the continuing demand for ivory, wild Asian elephants are being poached and skinned in Burma, with the skin being used as a treatment for stomach ailments.

Almost every part of an elephant has been found for sale in the Golden Triangle markets, including teeth, hair, bones, tails and trunks.

Bears

An Asiatic black bear. Bears feature on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(YJ Rey-Millet/WWF)

Illegal bear trade is largely driven by the demand for bile used in folk remedies.

Sun bears and Asiatic black bears – mostly captured in the wild – are kept in tiny cages on bear farms. Both are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international commercial trade in the species, their parts and derivatives.

Helmeted Hornbills

A helmeted hornbill, which features on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(WWF)

The bird’s casque – the helmet-like structure on the head – is especially popular in China as an alternative to elephant ivory carvings.

Listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, conservationists fear this species may disappear from other parts of their range after populations in Sumatra were wiped out due to the demand for casques.

Rhinos

A rhino, which features on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(Greg Armfield/WWF)

An average of three rhinos are killed every day to feed the demand for their horns.

Powdered horn is used in traditional Asian medicine as an unproven treatment for a range of illnesses, from hangovers to fevers and even cancer. In places like Vietnam, the rhino horn is seen as a symbol of wealth.

Serow

A serow, which features on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(Gerald S Cubitt/WWF)

These goat-like animals native to countries across Asia have been hunted for their meat, with their body parts being used for traditional medicine.

Serow horns, skulls, forelegs, heads, gallbladders and medicinal oil are reportedly being sold in nine different market areas in the Golden Triangle, in both individual stores and out in the open.

Leopards

A leopard, which features on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(Bryan Stemp/WWF)

Once widely distributed across South East Asia, leopard numbers have depleted due to habitat loss and poaching.

Products derived from leopards – including whole skins, pieces of skin and skulls – are openly for sale in the markets of the Golden Triangle.

Gaur

A gaur, a species of cattle which features on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(WWF)

The world’s largest species of cattle found in the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia have been targeted for their horns, gallbladders and whole heads, which are collected as trophies.

Turtles

A soft shell turtle. Turtles feature on the WWF's list of 10 endangered species facing extinction due to illegal trade
(WWF)

Turtles and tortoises can be found on sale in the Golden Triangle markets as decorative objects and food.

Several varieties, including Asian box turtles and softshell turtles, are traded as live animals to eventually be consumed as meat.

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