For years, hunters and smugglers have taken advantage of chaos, unrest, and lack of regulation to illegally hunt and trade rare species. Birds and foxes from the remote mountains of Kurdistan and falcons from the scorching plains of southern Iraq are among the targets of a lucrative and illicit trade.
Notorious hotspots such as Souq al-Ghazal in Bagdad or the Friday market in Sulaimani are well known for their illicit wildlife trade. Globally threatened species can also be found for sale at ostensibly random roadside stalls and small village markets.
Hana Raza, mammal researcher at Nature Iraq, a non-governmental environment agency, says local hunting and trading of wildlife is “fueled by harsh socio-economic conditions, weak and unevenly applied laws regarding animal trade and hunting, and a lack of scientific study, making the severity of the animal trade very difficult to assess and act on accordingly.”
Worldwide, the illegal trade in wildlife is big business, worth an estimated $19 billion per year. It is the fourth largest global illegal activity after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking, and often involves the same organized criminal elements as global arms and drug trafficking syndicates.
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) regards the trade as the largest direct threat to the future of many of world’s most threatened species.
In an unprecedented move, earlier this year, the Indonesian Council of Ulama – the country’s top Muslim clerical body – issued a fatwa against wildlife trafficking by declaring that the hunting or illegal trading of endangered species was forbidden.