Hunting the Hunters


17th April 2019

Arushi Singh

Even though CITES recommends ethical guidelines for countries to follow, many do not adhere to these rules and continue to use endangered animals and plants for commercial products, medicinal purposes or even as exotic meat. For instance, in her book Poached, Rachel Love Nuwer, highlights how easy it is to find rhino horns or pangolin meat in Chinese black markets if you know the right people.

This is a rather wicked problem to solve. There are poachers who hunt endangered species for money. They don’t care about the animal getting extinct or legal consequences because it is a highly profitable means of livelihood. There are buyers in the markets who can pay exorbitant prices for these animals. There are societies who believe in ancient traditions and superstitions like ‘grinding a rhino horn can prevent a hangover’ or ‘owning exotic pets are a show your opulence’ which always creates a market for smuggled goods. The perpetrators are not brought to justice because In some nations they are often protected by their corrupt elements in administration.

Thankfully, there is systematic documentation now available in the public domain. However, it is not compiled in an easy-to-use manner for general public consumption. Therefore, I designed a data visualization to check which countries traffic the maximum number of animals and which ones import them for educational, medicinal, research, breeding and commercial purposes .

The dataset I used contains records on every international import or export conducted with species from the CITES lists in 2016. It contains columns identifying the species, the import and export countries, and the amount and characteristics of the goods being traded (which range from live animals to skins and cadavers).

If interested, please take a look at this talk by Rachel Love Nuwer whose book, Poached, Inside the dark world of wildlife trafficking, inspired me to explore this topic.

Top 10 Exporters

Top 10 Importers


Indonesia exported 107765 live Scleropages formosus [Class: Actinopteri] a type of fish to China for commercial purposes. They are considered to be symbols of good luck and prosperity in Asian cultures due to their resemblance to the Chinese dragon.

Singapore exported Crocodylus porosus [Class : Reptilia], a type of saltwater crocodile, in the form of 5520 units of oil to Hong Kong. It also exported 114 units of skin pieces of the same species to Hong Kong.

China exported 331880.768 units of Saussurea costus[Order: Asterales], a type of medicinal plant, in power form to Austria. It is one of the most threatened medicinal plants of Kashmir Himalaya due to unregulated collection, over-exploitation, illegal trade, and loss of habitat.

China imported Alligator mississippiensis [Class: Reptilia], a type of American alligator, in the form of 8145 units of leather from Hong Kong. American alligators are harvested for their skins and meat. The species is the official state reptile of three states: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Hong Kong imported 428996 live Podocnemis unifilis [Class: Reptilia],a type of freshwater turtle from Peru. Podocnemis unifilis are commonly known as yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle. This species are at risk of predation by humans, birds, snakes, large fish, frogs and mammals. Importation of this species is now strictly regulated by Federal law, but a captive, self-sustaining population exists in zoos in United States. Individuals of this species have lived more than 30 years in captivity.

United States of America imported 2625 units of Odobenus rosmarus [Class: Mammalia], a type of walrus in the from of ivory jewellery from Indonesia.