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Wildlife Market. WWF-Russia names Species That May Fall Victim to Illegal Trade

22 april 2020
WWF-Russia celebrates the 50th Earth Day anniversary by presenting the results of its wildlife trafficking research. Experts of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have analyzed the situation with wildlife trade and found out the species that may go extinct due to heavy demand for animals, their parts and derivatives abroad
WWF-Russia has published its report Wildlife Trade in the Russian Federation. According to the report, Russia is an active player in the global wildlife market. Even legally, thousands of live animals and a few millions of their parts and derivatives are traded in Russia each year. But legal trade is just the top of the iceberg. The vast majority with animals and their parts are traded in the "black market." By the number of recorded cases, wildlife trafficking in Russia is among leaders of illegal trade, competing with trafficking of cultural property, precious stones and ranking only below the firearms smuggling.
Most frequently smuggled CITES specimens, according to the data of the Federal Customs Service of Russia (except for drug trafficing)

"Today there are no statistical data concerning the actual amount of trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products. In some cases, we can imagine an approximate picture by some indirect indicators, and even this incomplete picture is grim. For example, the number of sable furs sold at the fur auction in Saint Petersburg in 2013 amounted to 323% of the officially hunted sables. And it is only the domestic market. The amount of trafficking can be dozens of times larger than that of the legal market," says Vladimir Krever, Scientific Director, Biodiversity Conservation Program of WWF Russia. "The results of our study led us to the conclusion that combined legal and illegal trade can endanger several species. If we are not able to take under control poaching and trafficking of animals, their parts and derivatives, such species as saiga, saker falcon, and gyrfalcon will go extinct in Russia. Some populations of the wild reindeer, the Siberian musk deer are also in danger." 

The saiga is poached for the sake of its horns that are highly valued in some Asian countries as a component of traditional medicines. In March, the saiga was included in the Russian Red Data Book, but saiga hunting had been banned in 1999 when the populations shrank dramatically due to unregulated harvesting. Some 70 years ago, Russia was home to about 800,000 saigas, while today there are just over 6,000 of them in the Northwestern Region of the Caspian Sea according to the data obtained by UAV. They all inhabit special protection areas, and the number of male saigas hunted by poachers is twice as small as in stable populations. Despite the zero hunting quote, horn lots have still been intercepted by the customs. In particular, a lot of 1,300 horns—the number equals to 650 male saigas—was detected at the border with China in the spring of 2018.

With 35% and 29% of the total number of recorded CITES specimens trafficking, Siberian musk deer gland and live birds of prey are the ones that are the most popular smuggled "products".

 Main market for parts and derivatives of Russian animals are located in China and countries of Southeast Asia. Siberian musk deer gland, wild reindeer antlers, saiga horns as well as bones, whiskers, penises, and other parts of the Amur tiger are used in the traditional medicine. Live birds of prey are trafficked for falconry to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which undermines populations of the saker falcon and gyrfalcon. In 2018, the customs prevented the trafficking of 28 gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, and saker falcons, totaling US $ 457,650. At the same time, experts estimate that trafficking from Russia of gyrfalcons alone can amount to 400 individuals annually.

"The good news is that our country has made some important steps in combatting wildlife trafficking in recent years. This was greatly facilitated by new article 258.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Illegal hunting, capturing, and trafficking of high value species...), which made the punishment for trafficking a whole range of lucrative species much more severe. Lately, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Russia and the Federal Natural Resources Supervision Service have been paying increasingly more attention to the pending problems in the field of wildlife trafficking. For example, they have been establishing temporary foster centers for confiscated animals and developing a procedure for their future handling. The Prosecutor General's Office has been making efforts to spot violations in the field of internet trade, and the Federal Customs Service has been developing a special dog service and arranging advanced training courses for its officers," says Vladimir Krever, Scientific Director, Biodiversity Conservation Program of WWF Russia. "However, there is a problem with swift cooperation between the agencies that deal with preventing trafficking. For instance, customs officers cannot check the authenticity of CITES certificates online. The system of expertise of trafficked specimens lacks efficiency.  Based on the results of our research, we have developed a range of recommendations to help solve many problematic issues".

The trends revealed by the research require monitoring of domestic wildlife trade. Over the past decade, the domestic demand for parts and derivatives of Russian wild animals has been increasing. The Russians have been purchasing the Siberian musk deer gland that was only exported before as well as bear fat and bile more often. The number of companies processing parts and derivatives of wild animals has been growing, brands of specialized products have been appearing, and related medical practices have been emerging. Furs, skins, and claws of wild animals, including the Red Data Book Listed ones, have become popular souvenirs in some regions, although some of those products are illegal.

The publication presents an overview of the contemporary legal framework in the field of wildlife trafficking, an estimate of its propensity for corruption, the volume and specifics of trade in certain species and structure of the market as well as offers some recommendations concerning the illegal wildlife trade in Russia within the borders of the Eurasian Customs Union.

"In this report, we did not concern the issues of trafficking of timber and nontimber forest products or biological aquatic resources, but we are planning to make them subjects of our further research," added Vladimir Krever. 


Wildlife trafficking is a lucrative business due to the high profits. The global wildlife trafficking can amount to USD 23 billion annually. 

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

High value species are species included in the Red Data Book of Russia and/or protected by international agreements of Russia. The list includes the following species: argali, Amur tiger, polar bear, leopard, European bison, saiga, snow leopard, saker falcon, golden eagle, gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, and a number of biological aquatic resources.