Wildlife trafficking is a booming business, right up there with drug running, illicit arms dealing, and child sex trafficking.

I knew wildlife trafficking was a problem, but I didn’t realize just how much of a problem until I read this article by Charles Bergman in the November 2009 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

According to Bergman and NGOs like the Coalitions Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT), animals stolen from their natural habitats and sold on the international black market represent a $10 billion business. Traffickers poach and then sell animals for food, medicine, pets, religious rituals, and private collections.

The threat of wildlife trafficking isn’t just species depletion or even eventual extinction. When animals are removed from their natural habitats, their absence disrupts the local ecosystem, and their introduction into a new environment results in problems related to non-native and invasive species.

Here are a few animals–from pocket sized to portly– prized by wildlife traffickers. Captions include text from Bergman’s article, as well as statistics from CAWT and TRAFFIC.

1

butterfly

1. Butterflies Butterflies and other insects may be fragile, but they're especially easy to traffic because of their small size. Butterflies are often sold to private collectors looking to expand their exotic menageries. Photo: e3000

2

chicks

2. Chicks Birds represent one of the biggest sources of income for traffickers, and Central and South America are high bird trafficking zones. As Bergman noted, "Ecuador--about the size of Colorado--has about 1,600 species of birds; the entire continental US has about 900." Photo: oldcockatoo

3

hummer

3. Hummingbird According to Bergman, "two to five million wild birds, from hummingbirds to harpy eagles, are traded illegally worldwide every year." Photo: hickoryhollow113

4

turtle

4. Turtle Turtles are sold for food, as pets, for medicine, and for their shells, which are turned into decorative items. Photo: notsogoodphotography

5

snake

5. Snake Not every trafficker has the courage to hunt down and bag the world's most venomous snakes, but those who do are paid handsomely for their efforts; snakes are sold for medicine, their skins, and as pets to exotic snake collectors. Photo: travlinman43

6

monkey

6. Monkey Monkeys may be harder to conceal, but experienced poachers know the pay-off is worth it: primates of all types are a hot commodity on the illicit wildlife underground. Bergman writes, "Wildlife trafficking is thought to be the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world, after drugs and weapons...according to the U.S. State Department." Photo: individuo