An Overview of Wildlife Protection

January 22, 2021Lu Shegay


Wild animals are usually referred to as undomesticated animals inhabiting areas with no human possession and can be found in various ecosystems, such as deserts, forests, rainforests, grasslands, etc. While wild animals are generally associated with land animals, aquatic life is also considered wildlife, although often-forgotten.

Historically, humans used to hunt wild animals for different purposes, such as food consumption, clothes, home decorations. Currently, a dozen species of wild animals are hunted to extinction because of human intervention. Hunting now includes not only the above-mentioned purposes but also medicine, trophies, entertainment, pets, etc.

For the last 50 years, the global wildlife population has decreased by 68% due to human activities, in particular, overconsumption, overpopulation, intensive farming, landscape development. As a result, a lot of wildlife areas have been affected by habitat degradation, fragmentation, or loss.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, a big number of people began to consider meat and animal derivatives in consumption more carefully. The virus that supposedly first appeared in China led the government to amend certain current legislation and to enact new laws with regard to animals.

"File:Fox - British Wildlife Centre (17429406401).jpg" by Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Legal protection in the United States

Endangered Species Act

The primary federal law that is aimed at wildlife protection is the Endangered Species Act enacted in 1973. The Act covers fish, mammals, and birds that are listed as threatened or endangered in the country and outside the country. It also provides guidelines for federal agencies and penalties, both civil and criminal, for the violation of any provision.

In Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill, the Supreme Court of the United States called the Act “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species enacted by any nation.” The fundamental purposes of the Act are to prevent extinction and to recover species to the point where the law is not necessary. For instance, Section 9 prohibits unlawful take of such species, as well as harassing, harming, hunting, etc. Section 7 provides directions and guidelines for federal agencies to ensure the conservation of species listed under the Act. Two federal agencies manage the Act: the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act was the first act enacted by Congress to address wildlife issues. It specifically prohibits taking of marine mammals and imposes a moratorium on the import, export, sale of any marine mammal and any marine mammal part or product within the country. The word “take” is defined by the Act as “the act of hunting, killing, capture, and/or harassment of any marine mammal; or, the attempt at such.” “Harassment” in its turn is defined as “any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance which has the potential to either: a) injure a marine mammal in the wild, or b) disturb a marine mammal by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

Recently, due to the heated issue of elections in the United States, someone carved “TRUMP” on the manatee’s back in Florida. And, although the manatee is not reported injured, it still qualifies as a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, in terms of disturbing a marine mammal’s habitat and the animal themselves. A couple of animal organizations offer a reward for finding a person having done that. Also, a federal agency asks for reporting any evidence or information by contacting them directly.

Lacey Act

The Lacey Act is another federal law that protects wild animals and bans illegal wildlife trafficking. The Act prohibits any trade in wildlife and plants that were illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. It also provides penalties for persons violating the provisions of the Act.

Wild Bird Conservation Act

The Wild Bird Conservation Act was passed to ensure that exotic birds are not harmed by international trade. It also encourages wild bird conservation programs. Most birds listed under CITES are listed under the Act, except birds native to all 50 states and the District of Columbia; Melopsittacus undulatus and Nymphycus hollandicus; families of Anatidae, Cracidae, Dromaiidae, Gruidae, Megapodiidae, Numididae, Phasianidae, Rheidae, Struthionidae.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed to implement 4 international conservation treaties of the United States with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia. The Act prohibits taking (killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transporting) protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Listing a bird species under the Act depends on whether they meet one or more of the following criteria:

State laws

As for the state level, each state passed the law with regard to wild animals.

Read more here about the possession of wild animals as pets.

"File:2010-kodiak-bear-1.jpg" by Yathin S Krishnappa is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Legal protection in Asia


Wild Animal Conservation Law of the People's Republic of China was released in 1988, and it was amended in 2004, 2009, revised in 2016, and amended in 2018. This law includes the protection of wild animals and their habitat, the management of wild animals, and the liability. The wild animal in this law refers to “rare and endangered terrestrial and aquatic wild animals, and terrestrial wild animals of important ecological, scientific and social value.” Species of wild animals under national conservation are divided into wild animals under Grade-I and Grade-II conservation in the national priority conservation list of wild animals. Besides that, the local governments can publish the local priority conservation list to cover other animals beyond the national list. There are Implementing Regulations on the Protection of Terrestrial Wild Animals and on the Protection of Aquatic Wild Animals.

Smuggling on rare and endangered animals and their products prohibited from import and export, illegal fishing, illegal hunting, and illegal trade are banned by the Criminal Law in China.

In February 2020, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress released the Decision to Comprehensively Prohibit the Illegal Trade of Wild Animals, Break the Bad Habit of Excessive Consumption of Wild Animals, and Effectively Secure the Life and Health of the People. The Decision bans the activities of hunting, trade, transportation, and eating wildlife animals. In April 2020, Shenzhen became the first city to ban the meat-eating of cats and dogs. And Zhuhai became the second city following Shenzhen to ban dog and cat meat-eating in the middle of April. The Wildlife Conservation Law is under revision and calling for comments in November 2020.

Read more about Animal Law in China and the 2020 Updates.


In Indonesia, Article 9(3) of Law No. 18 provides that the exploitation of genetic resources of wild animals shall correspond to the regulations of law concerning the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem. The Government has a right to allow raising wild animals as livestock if their population is stable.

Regulation No. 95, Law No. 18, Act No. 5 also regulate the trade of wildlife products and provide the protection of endangered species of animals. Article 21 of Act No. 5 prohibits catching, injuring, killing, possessing, caring for, transportation, and trade of protected animals and their parts. However, Article 36 allows the utilization of wild animals, including for the purposes of marketing, exhibition, hunting, breeding, etc.


In Iran, Article 50 of the Constitution provides that “all legal and real persons have a duty to protect the environment and prohibits all activities, economic or otherwise, that may result in irreparable damage to the environment.”

The Law on Hunting and Fishing requires a license to hunt or fish. Later on, in 1975, the Environmental Protection Law was enacted providing that the Department of Environment and the High Council for Environmental Protection shall establish a system of supervision and monitoring wildlife and marine resources, and establish limitations for hunting in certain protected areas. In 2015, Iran reported to the Convention on Biological Diversity that the government successfully conserved cheetahs and completed its project on activities with regard to other endangered and threatened species. In the case of any violation of the Game and Fish Laws, the punishments include fines and arrest depending on the animal hunted or the conduct itself. Moreover, the Ministry of War can revoke any issued licenses on possessing arms.


Besides the protection by the Criminal Code, the Animal Welfare Act that covering five species of wild animals, the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535 includes “all kinds of animals either terrestrial or aquatic, fowls, insects, or arthropods which naturally exist, or things which originated from or are bound by nature and able to sustain life in the forest and includes insects’ eggs of all kinds.”

The act of hunting, propagating, keeping, or trading in preserved or protected wildlife (or their carcasses) is prohibited unless it is performed by an official under the exception stipulated in Section 26 of the Act. In 2014, an amendment to the Act made the African elephant a protected species in Thailand. New penalties were included for conducting illegal trade or possessing African elephant ivory (up to 4 years imprisonment).

In 2015, Thailand also passed the Elephant Ivory Tusks Act B.E. 2558, which requires any person wishing to trade elephant ivory tusks to submit an application to the Director-General of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation. Section 9 authorizes an official under the Penal Code to inspect and search premises or vehicles where there is reasonable cause to assume that an offense under this Act is occurring, to seize any tusks that were obtained without an appropriate permit.


The activity of illegal trafficking, killing, and raising of endangered species is prohibited in Vietnam and punished by imprisonment for up to 15 years and/or a large fine. The primary legal instrument with regard to the protection of wild animals is the Government Decree 32/2006/ND-CP. Article 5 provides that “forests, where endangered, precious, and rare species of wild plants and animals are concentrated, are considered to be special-use forests,” as well as those living outside special-use forests.

Hunting, shooting, trapping, capturing, keeping, and slaughtering endangered, precious, and rare wild animals, as well as transporting, processing, advertising, trading, using, hiding, exporting, and importing endangered, precious, and rare wild animals are also prohibited by the Decree.

Another instrument is the Law on Forest Protection and Development enacted in 2004, which prohibits illegal hunting, shooting, catching, trapping, caging, or slaughtering forest animals, illegal transportation, process, advertisement, trade, use, consumption, storage, export, or import of forest animals without an appropriate permit.

Vietnam also prohibits, through the Law on Biodiversity of the XII National Assembly of Vietnam, hunting, fishing, and exploiting wild species in specially protected areas, except for scientific research. The law is aimed at protecting endemic species, species that are prohibited from exploitation, species threatened with extinction, and wild species needing protection from exploitation in the natural area.

Learn more about Animal Law in Asian countries here.

"File:Asia Elephant (141808933).jpeg" by Natha Wang is licensed under CC BY 3.0

International protection


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) protects endangered plants and animals and is intended to regulate, control, prohibit, or limit international trade of endangered or threatened species. CITES protects approximately 5800 species of animals and 30 000 species of plants against over-exploitation through international trade. It lists each species under one of the three Appendices depending on the level of being threatened by international trade.

Appendix I lists threatened with extinction species or species that may be affected by international trade. These species cannot be used in commercial trade but permitted only in exceptional cases with the approved license. Any other trade of the species of Appendix I requires export and import permits. Appendix II contains the list of species that may not be necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so if the trade is not strictly regulated. International trade of species listed in Appendix II can be authorized by the export permit or re-export certificate, and the export permit is required by the exporting country. If one of the Parties requests other CITES Parties the assistance in controlling the trade of some species, these species are included in Appendix III. The trade of these species is allowed only with an export permit and a certificate of origin from the country which lists these species.


The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is aimed at the conservation of migratory species within their migratory ranges. The purpose of the convention is to acknowledge the importance of migratory species and the necessity to take measures for improving the conservation status of wild animals and their habitat. CMS also has Appendices. Appendix I lists migratory species threatened with extinction where Parties are bound to ensure strict protection of species. Parties shall also prevent the taking of animals belonging to such species, except for scientific purposes, for accommodating the needs of traditional subsistence users of such species, etc. Appendix II includes migratory species that have unfavorable conservation status and that would significantly benefit from international cooperation.


The problem of illegal hunting, trafficking, and trade cannot be easily solved in a certain country or region. Apart from domestic regulation, which is not enforced in many countries of the world, including Asia, international cooperation is still a significant part of protecting wild animals due to many species going extinct. Although CITES lists certain species in its Appendix I, which prohibits the trade of those species and their body parts, the black market exists together with a dozen cases of smuggling animals. For this reason, legal protection of wild animals needs global participation. 

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