Illegal poaching, logging, harvesting and trafficking are plaguing natural areas which have been recognised for their outstanding international importance by UNESCO.
Natural World Heritage Sites are home to endangered species, including a third of wild tigers and 40 per cent of African elephants, as well as being the last refuge for Critically Endangered Javan rhinos and vaquitas.
More than 90 per cent of the sites are important to local communities by supporting tourism and recreation, and providing jobs.
“Illegal wildlife trafficking robs the world of its natural heritage, threatens local communities and hampers global efforts to reduce poverty,” said Inger Anderson, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“This report is a sobering reminder of just how far this type of organised crime can reach, extending even into the supposed safety of World Heritage sites.”
In major tropical countries, the illegal timber trade is responsible for up to 90 per cent of deforestation, which results in increased soil erosion, habitat loss, and water pollution.
For example, rosewood and ebony is logged illegal in Madagascar, including the World Heritage Site, the Rainforests of Atsinanana, and predominantly exported to China.
The logging has caused rapid forest degradation, including soil erosion and a decline in water quality, and has led to the increased poaching of lemurs.
The export of rosewood was banned in 2013, but it is estimated that between 2013 and 2016, 50,000 tonnes of illegally logged rosewood reached China, worth around $1.25 billion (US dollars).
There are three natural World Heritage Sites in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – Virunga National Park, Garamba National Park and Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which are home to elephants, mountain gorillas and okapis.
There has been a collapse in elephant populations from militarized poaching following the civil war, and all three sites have lost significant numbers of elephants.
The poached elephant ivory from these sites is illegally exported to several Asian markets.