27 photos that give an inside look at one of the biggest criminal enterprises on the planet

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Green turtles like this one are frequently poached for their meat and shells.
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REUTERS/Murdani Usman

The illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest criminal enterprises on the planet.

In fact, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks wildlife trafficking alongside the drug trade, arms dealing, and human trafficking in terms of illicit profits. A new report by the US Government Accountability Office estimates that the illegal wildlife trade “is worth an estimated $7 billion to $23 billion annually – and is pushing some animals to the brink of extinction.”

Animals are sold as pets, consumed as delicacies, and used to create traditional medicines all around the globe.

Scroll through these photos for an inside look at animals that have been rescued.


Criminal elements engaged in the wildlife trade range from terrorist groups to rogue security forces, but the main driving force behind the trade is transnational organized crime.

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This Malayan sun bear was seized as part of a shipment of creatures estimated to be worth $20,000.
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REUTERS/Olivia Harris

That makes trafficking in animals one of the biggest sources of funding for organized crime.

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Black spotted freshwater turtles are pictured after they were seized in a raid in Karachi, Pakistan.
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REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Pangolins like this newborn here are scaly mammals that many think are on their way to extinction because of trafficking. They’re considered delicacies and their scales and blood are used in Chinese medicine.

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REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Source: CNN


Trying to stop the wildlife trade is dangerous, too.

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Police are getting ready to hand this python off to members of the NGO WildAid in Cambodia.
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REUTERS/Samrang Pring

More than 1,000 wildlife rangers were killed between 2004 and 2014.

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Authorities caught a man trying to smuggle 22 endangered yellow-crested cockatoos out of Indonesia inside water bottles.
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REUTERS/Antara Foto/Risyal Hidayat

That means a ranger is killed approximately once every four days.

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A Pakistan customs official releases a seized falcon in Kirthar National Park.
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REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

This baby orangutan was being smuggled out of an Indonesian forest so it could be sold for Rp25 million, or about $2000.

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REUTERS/FB Anggoro/Antara Foto

This Mexican tarantula was potentially destined for the pet trade.

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REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Poaching threatens to drive many species to extinction, which also destroys local economies that depend on wildlife tourism.

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The orangutan here was part of a group of 14 recovered in Thailand.
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REUTERS/Beawiharta

A recent analysis found that 2015 marked a return to record highs in the illegal trade in ivory.

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A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) ranger stacks elephant tusks, part of an estimated 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory to be set ablaze, onto a pyre at Nairobi National Park.
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REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Source: World Wildlife Fund


Ugandan officials confiscated this group of African grey parrots. An international conference on the wildlife trade is currently considering a proposal to completely ban trade in these vulnerable birds.

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REUTERS/James Akena

The US Congress recently passed a law that authorized prosecutors to charge wildlife traffickers for money laundering to finance crime and extremism.

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Cambodian police officers found this turtle in a shipment of exotic creatures.
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REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society


The new bipartisan legislation, which President Obama is expected to sign, also increases support for wildlife rangers.

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These confiscated elvers (young eels) from the Philippines are worth about $524 per kilo and were on their way to Hong Kong.
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REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

The bill also allows the US to transfer military equipment for ranger use.

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This slow loris was taken from traders in Malaysia.
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REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Interpol estimates that only about 10% of the exotic animal trade is currently detected.

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One of 27 saltwater crocodiles confiscated in one Indonesian seizure.
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REUTERS/Dwi Oblo

Source: National Geographic


These long-tailed macaque babies were found on a truck crossing from Vietnam into China.

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REUTERS/Stringer

These 81 baby iguanas were found in Costa Rica hotel, presumably bound for the pet trade.

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REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

This Mexican coyote sits in a government facility on the outskirts of Mexico City after being rescued.

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REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

These falcons, recovered in Pakistan, are worth approximately $9,600 each.

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REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

In this case, more than 90 turtles, monkeys, and parrots were found in plastic bags inside a dumpster, ready to be smuggled into El Salvadorean territory.

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REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

This woman was caught with 51 tropical fish in an apron when customs officers heard splashing inside her skirt while she tried to catch a flight from Singapore to Melbourne.

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REUTERS/Handout/Australian Customs Service

This coati was part of a group of animals seized in Mexico.

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REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

A German national shipped these tarantulas into the US, where the Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated them.

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REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This serpent eagle was taken from traffickers in the Philippines.

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REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

These spider monkeys were the lucky ones that survived their transport in a bag found on a bus.

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REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

This black rattlesnake was part of a larger shipment of animals intercepted by Mexican authorities.

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REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

“The very survival of elephants, rhinos, tigers and other iconic species is threatened by wildlife trafficking,” said John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a statement. “We need to address this crisis now, before it is too late.”

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REUTERS/Murdani Usman