Illegal wildlife trafficking is a multibillion-dollar-a-year business with ties to organized crime and terrorism. In an effort to combat this threat to wildlife, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 3 World Wildlife Day. This year's observance highlights the need to "get serious about wildlife crime."
Countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. have taken steps to beef up laws combating illegal wildlife trafficking and expanding awareness of the issue. The Indonesian Council of Ulama, the country's top Muslim clerical body, even declared a fatwa against wildlife trafficking last March. (See "Opinion: End Illegal Wildlife Trafficking on World Wildlife Day.")
But the appetite for products or "cures" made from elephant tusks, rhino horns, or bear bile keeps rising, leaving Earth's wildlife to bear the brunt of our demands. A 2014 study found that poachers killed 100,000 elephants in Africa over three years. And according to figures cited by the United Nations, roughly 1,200 rhinos were taken by poachers in South Africa in 2014, while 30 percent of the global timber trade is likely illegal.
Animals such as leatherback turtles (above) are facing other threats—like getting entangled in fishing gear or changing climates—in addition to being hunted by traffickers for their eggs or shells. (Learn how 10 National Geographic explorers are are working to conserve, protect, and explore the wildlife around them.)
—By Jane J. Lee, photo gallery by Nicole Werbeck