International trade in wildlife is highly profitable, and occurs at a level unsuspected by most people. Huge numbers of animals and plants are collected and shipped around the world for scientific and medical research as well. They are also collected for display in zoos and gardens, for private collectors, and for products that can be derived from them.
Sometimes, exotic animals are offered up at high prices for what the sellers call "research purposes." However, the ostriches, geese, Marabou Storks, foxes, and Crowned Cranes that are sometimes added to the list would serve little purpose in medical experiments.
Collections of animals for zoos and laboratories have helped reduce the gorilla populations toward extinction, especially when large numbers of the creatures are killed in the process of capture or die in captivity before being displayed or experimented upon.
Pressures are also put on endangered species by zoos, which often buy animals from questionable animal dealers. The way these animals are treated and handled are often horrible. In August 1978, three Malay Tapirs, three Leopard Cats, fifty Stumptail Macaques, one Pileated Gibbon, one White-crested Gibbon, and thirty-eight White-handed Gibbons arrived at the Bangkok airport in six crowded cages. They were held for several days in intense heat and cramped conditions before being shipped to Belgium. Because of the way these animals were captured, scientists estimate that the forty captive, young gibbons represented the destruction of at least a hundred breeding groups. In addition, eight of America's top zoos were isolated in 1977 as buyers of illegally imported reptiles.
Collections are also made outside of zoos. Wild populations are often collected for the pet trade as well. In 1970 almost 84 million living fishes were imported into the USA, and by 1979 the number had increased to about 250 million. In 1970, over 2 million reptiles were imported into the US, the number doubling by 1979. Between 1967 and 1972, the United Kingdom imported over 1.2 million specimens of the Mediterranean Spur-thighed Tortoise from Morocco alone, and similar numbers go annually to continental Europe. It is believed that 80% die in
the first year of captivity. Most wild animals do not thrive when imprisoned in cages,
and countless numbers die in the process of transport and capture. One of the most highly valued birds, the red of the Rock (shown on the right), is often captured from its home in the northern Andes. It is believed that fifty die for every one that arrives to appear in a zoo's display.
Plants, too, are commonly shipped to other countries by illegal means. Between October 1977 and September 1978, 7 million cactus plants were imported to the United States from over fifty countries. These plants adorn the collectors' houses and gardens until they die, unable to reproduce and maintain their populations, and usually living in an unsuitable habitat. In 1978, an entire population of a cactus species, out of two known populations, was taken into Germany in fifteen suitcases. In 1979, customs officials at Frankfurt airport confiscated 3,600 individuals of some of the rarest cactus species. In Texas (United States) near Big Bend National Park, about 25,000 to 50,000 cacti are being harvest per months, many of which die before reaching the market. In 1977 about 10 million cacti were shipped out of Texas alone. Not only cacti, but orchids are also
The last colony of the Ghost Orchid, the rarest of British orchids, produced only five flowers in 1974. Two were stolen, and the third was trampled by sightseers. In the Alps, climbers scale north-facing vertical cliffs to collect a rare saxifrage plant. And in the jungles of Sumatra, the largest flowers in the world, Rafflesia arnoldii, are threatened because they are an irresistible magnet for collectors.