International socioeconomic inequality drives trade patterns in the global wildlife market

Jia Huan LIEW*, Zi Yi KHO, Rayson Bock Hing LIM, Caroline DINGLE, Timothy Carlton BONEBRAKE, Yik Hei SUNG, David DUDGEON

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The wildlife trade is a major cause of species loss and a pathway for disease transmission. Socioeconomic drivers of the wildlife trade are influential at the local scale yet rarely accounted for in multinational agreements aimed at curtailing international trade in threatened species. In recent decades (1998-2018), approximately 421,000,000 threatened (i.e., CITES-listed) wild animals were traded between 226 nations/territories. The global trade network was more highly connected under conditions of greater international wealth inequality, when rich importers may have a larger economic advantage over poorer exporting nations/territories. Bilateral trade was driven primarily by socioeconomic factors at the supply end, with wealthier exporters likely to supply more animals to the global market. Our findings suggest that international policies for reducing the global wildlife trade should address inequalities between signatory states, possibly using incentive/compensation-driven programs modeled after other transnational environmental initiatives (e.g., REDD+).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabf7679
JournalScience advances
Issue number19
Early online date5 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2021

Bibliographical note

We thank the associate editor and three anonymous reviewers whose
critical feedback was influential in shaping this paper. Funding: J.H.L. was partially supported by the University of Hong Kong’s Division of Ecology and Biodiversity Postdoctoral Fellow Award. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Lam Woo Research Fund at Lingnan University.

Copyright © 2021 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC BY).


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