Pinto Abalone Among 10 Species Threatened by Wildlife and Plant Trade

New Report Calls for End to Wildlife Trafficking, Unsustainable Trade

WASHINGTON – Global trade in wildlife is a multi-billion-dollar industry and a major threat to species in the U.S. and worldwide, according to a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, Trafficked: 10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade, highlights how legal and illegal wildlife commerce is driving species decline, and in some cases, posing a threat to human health. 

The report highlights a series of species impacted by wildlife trade, including the pinto abalone, an important food source for the highly endangered California sea otter, and an efficient housekeeper of the sea, whose role is to clean the ocean’s ecosystem by filtrating micro-algae and bacteria. The pinto abalone once ranged from Southeast Alaska to Baja Mexico, but its numbers have drastically declined as a result of uncontrolled harvesting, poaching, and climate change. Remaining populations may be too small and too far apart to survive. 

“The pinto abalone has been reaped from the sea at unsustainable levels and is now in danger of becoming extinct,” said Paul Todd, Senior Staff Attorney for the Nature Program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “Like with so many other species, consumer demand has largely contributed to its decline.” 

Abalone is a food delicacy in some parts of Asia and other places, and wild-caught abalone, which holds the most value, can sell for hundreds of dollars on the market and tops $100 million in annual trade. 

“The exploitation of marine species for human use is the leading driver of biodiversity loss and extinction in our oceans. We have to recognize the important role the pinto abalone plays in the ecosystem, along with its fundamental right to live for its own sake, not just ours,” said Todd. “The pinto abalone is in trouble. The federal government needs to step up with Endangered Species Act protections and propose international protections too.”  

The pinto abalone is not protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act despite NRDC’s call for the species to be listed in 2014. Although it is protected under Canadian and Washington state law, it is not protected from commercial trade by international law, leaving it highly vulnerable to extinction.   

The 10 Species Threatened by the Wildlife Trade highlighted in the report are the: Pinto abalone, Diamondback terrapin, Scalloped hammerhead shark, Pangolin, Rufous hummingbird, Saguaro cactus, Tiger, Tokay gecko, Venus flytrap, and Yellow-headed parrot.  

Wildlife Trade and Infectious Diseases 

Scientists believe that the novel coronavirus now sweeping the planet, COVID-19, jumped from wildlife to humans, quite possibly via a pangolin – the most trafficked mammal in the world and one of the ten species featured in the report. Similarly, SARS, Ebola and HIV all likely originated from the exploitation of wildlife. In fact, most new infectious diseases that have emerged in recent years are “zoonotic” diseases, and climate change is exacerbating the threat. In order to protect human health and prevent more pandemics, the report calls for new policies, enforcement, and a commitment to end wildlife trafficking and unsustainable wildlife trade. Some members of Congress have started work to address wildlife trafficking, including Senators John Cornyn and Cory Booker, who have crafted the bipartisan Preventing Future Pandemics Act of 2020. The bill would prohibit the sale of live wild animals for food – thought to be the cause of COVID-19 – but has yet to be heard in committee.   

Endangered Species Coalition’s member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and chose the finalists. The full report, along with photos can be viewed and downloaded here:  

 The Endangered Species Coalition produces a Top 10 report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website. 


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC


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