Wealth inequality is key driver of global wildlife trade

By Eric Lee
May 17th 2021

A research team co-led by Research Division for Ecology and Biodiversity (E&B), Faculty of Science, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Science Unit (SU) of Lingnan University (LU) corroborated this premise by analysing global wildlife trade databases. The research team includes Dr Jia Huan LIEW, Research Assistant Professor of SU, and Emeritus Professor David DUDGEON from E&B, HKU. Their findings are published in Science Advances.

The study’s findings may have important implications in a post-pandemic world, where issues surrounding the wildlife trade is once again in the spotlight. The COVID-19 virus is believed to have spread to humans via the wildlife trade, leading notably, to a ban on the consumption of wild terrestrial animals in China. While increased regulation may suppress trade in the short term, the pandemic’s impact on the global economy will likely exacerbate wealth inequality between nations by disproportionately impacting some parts of the world. This, according to research findings that show a positive correlation between wealth inequality and the extent of the global wildlife market, could encourage more international trade in wildlife products.

Inequalities in the wildlife market and the dominant role of wealthy countries highlights the importance of efforts to reduce the demand for wildlife products via awareness campaigns or product substitution, among others. “One message is that it is evidently demand from richer countries that is fueling the capture and trade of wildlife from poor/low-income countries.  That means that it is the responsibility of affluent consumers in rich countries to do something to limit their demands and greed for animal products,” says Emeritus Professor Dudgeon.

This may also be a more socially equitable approach than blanket bans on wildlife harvesting that could impact vulnerable communities reliant on the trade. “Globally, we need to manage the trade in wildlife in a way which does not endanger their populations and the communities that rely on it for a source of protein or important source of livelihood,” says Dr Janice LEE, Assistant Professor at the Asian School of the Environment.

For the paper in Science Advances: