Wealth Gap Drives Global Wildlife Trade, Study Says

Wealth inequality is a key driver of global wildlife trade, with higher-income countries being the top consumers of wildlife products.

AsianScientist (Jul. 9, 2021) – According to researchers from Hong Kong, the widening wealth gap—exacerbated by COVID-19—may drive up the volume of global trade and endanger wildlife. Their findings are published in Science Advances.

Though the term ‘wildlife trade’ may conjure images of illicit activities done under the cover of night, it actually refers to a wide spectrum of everyday products. From the live corals we see in home aquariums to the animal-derived ingredients in medicines and cosmetics, most of us benefit from legal wildlife trade one way or another.

However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a closer look at wildlife trade. While the true origins of the SARS-CoV-2 remain murky, the virus is believed to have spread to humans via the wildlife trade—leading to a ban on the consumption of wild terrestrial animals in China.

To examine the global flows of wildlife trade, researchers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Lingnan University (LU) analyzed global legal wildlife trade databases. Looking at 20 years worth of data—ranging from seahorses for traditional remedies to wild-caught sturgeons for aquaculture—an estimated 421 million individual animals were traded globally.

The authors found that wealthy countries were overwhelmingly responsible for most of the world’s wildlife trade. The US, France and Italy are the top three importers of wild animals globally, whereas in Asia, wealthier nations like China, Singapore and Japan were all net importers of wildlife products.

Meanwhile, low-income countries largely exported wildlife products to meet the demands of the counterparts in wealthier economies. Countries with better logistics capabilities like Indonesia, in particular, exported more wildlife products.

Across the board, there were marked inequalities between exporters and importers of wildlife products, with importers generally better off across all socioeconomic metrics. Case in point: the largest trade partnership the study recorded was between the US (importer) and Indonesia (exporter), with the former having a per capita GDP 20 times that of the latter.

While increased regulation post-pandemic may reduce wildlife trade in the short term, COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on the global economy is already exacerbating wealth inequality among nations. Given the positive correlation between wealth inequality and the global wildlife market, the pandemic may likely encourage increased international wildlife trade in the long run.

According to the authors, their findings highlight the importance of efforts to reduce the demand of wildlife products in wealthy countries via awareness campaigns or product substitution. These communications approaches may be more socially equitable compared than blanket bans on wildlife harvesting that could impact vulnerable communities reliant on trade.

“One message is that it is evidently demand from richer countries that is fueling the capture and trade of wildlife from poor/low-income countries. That means that it is the responsibility of affluent consumers in rich countries to do something to limit their demands and greed for animal products,” concluded Professor Emeritus David Dudgeon from HKU.

The article can be found at: Liew et al. (2021) International Socioeconomic Inequality Drives Trade Patterns in the Global Wildlife Market.


Source: University of Hong Kong; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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