Three cheetah cubs look through bars, with the one in the middle opening its mouth with eyes shut

Wildlife Trade

Born Free calls for immediate – and lasting – action to save imperilled species

Wildlife trade is the buying and selling of animals and plants. It involves a multitude of countries, species and ‘commodities’ being exchanged. Entire animals and plants, living or dead, as well as parts and products made from them are traded. It can be legal or illegal, and both generate billions of dollars annually. After habitat destruction, wildlife trade is the second biggest threat to species survival.

Illegal wildlife trade is in of the broader category of wildlife crime, this ranges from killing an animal for subsistence, to selling it at a local bushmeat markets, to international trafficking in large volumes for high commercial gain.

How does the illegal wildlife trade work?

The illegal wildlife trade is big business with high returns. The industry involves organised crime groups who know that in many cases there is a low risk associated with removing wildlife from the wild and trafficking it across borders to where demand, and profits, exist.

Every year, millions of wild animals are brutally shot, trapped, poisoned and mutilated, kept in appalling conditions and traded by criminal networks. These networks rely on connections to political, military, police, customs, logistics companies and other facilitating networks to get their ‘product’ from source to market.

What effect is wildlife trade having?

The world’s natural heritage, including the future survival of many species is at stake – from the more charismatic elephants, rhinos, tigers and pangolins; to the less recognised but countless plants, reptiles, insects, amphibians and fish which are just as vital for the role they play in the global ecosystem. In terms of financial value, the highest by far lies in the trafficking of timber, threatening entire wildlife populations at an even greater scale.

However, animals and plants are not the only victims of wildlife trade – when vital ecological processes are eroded our own species suffers through loss of ecosystem services. For example, in the case of illegal trade it fosters corruption and undermines rule of law and can result in the loss of human life when protected area rangers and other wildlife defenders are murdered.

How can we end wildlife trade?

Tackling the illegal trade, estimated to be worth as much as US$20 billion a year (excluding the trafficking of timber and fish), requires a concerted response at a national, regional and international level. Born Free and its affiliates have been exposing the impacts of wildlife trafficking for many years. We work with governments, enforcement authorities and our fellow charities and NGOs to increase awareness of and improve the global response to the scourge of wildlife trafficking.

Born Free's work to end wildlife crime

Close up of a male lion's head in profile, facing to the left

Canned Hunting

Born Free is absolutely opposed to the cruel practice of canned hunting, and campaigns to end the captive breeding of lions and other predators for canned hunting and other forms of commercial exploitation.
A male lion sits with head raised against a grassy backdrop

Trophy Hunting

Born Free is opposed to the killing of any animal for sport or pleasure, and strongly refutes claims by trophy hunting proponents that their activities significantly support conservation or local communities.
A young chimpanzee holds a thin branch with the end in her mouth


Born Free works to protect wildlife from the bushmeat and live infant trade, which threatens the existence of the planet's last great apes and other species.
A Chameleon sits on a persons hand in front of plain grey background

Exotic Pet Trade

Born Free is increasingly concerned by the number of wild animals being traded and kept as exotic pets, both legally and illegally. Discover the devastating effects here.
Two piles of elephant ivory tusks being burned

Ivory Trade

Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed across Africa each year for their tusks. Born Free campaigns to end the global ivory trade.
A rhino with large horn stands in dry grassland

Rhino Horn Trade

The world’s rhinos are in crisis - less than 29,000 remain. Born Free is fighting to end the trade in rhino horn.
A tiger cub looking miserable staring through the bars of a tiny cage.

Tiger Farming

Tigers are bred and kept in often appalling conditions on ‘tiger farms’ and in other facilities across Asia - Born Free is wholly opposed to Tiger Farming.
The Malang bird market, lots of cages of birds stacked on top of each other in the street

Wildlife & Pandemics

The coronavirus pandemic, and its devastating impacts on the lives of people and the global economy, has brought home the risks that commercial wildlife trade and consumption also pose to human society.