27 photos that give an inside look at one of the biggest criminal enterprises on the planet

The illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest criminal enterprises on the planet.

In fact, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranks wildlife trafficking alongside the drug trade, arms dealing, and human trafficking in terms of illicit profits. A new report by the US Government Accountability Office estimates that the illegal wildlife trade "is worth an estimated $7 billion to $23 billion annually — and is pushing some animals to the brink of extinction."

28 PHOTOS
Inside illegal wildlife trading, one of the world's biggest criminal enterprises
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Inside illegal wildlife trading, one of the world's biggest criminal enterprises

Criminal elements engaged in the wildlife trade range from terrorist groups to rogue security forces, but the main driving force behind the trade is transnational organized crime.

A wildlife department official holds a Malayan sun bear for the media at its head office in Kuala Lumpur, March 24, 2015. It was among other animals estimated to be worth $20,000, including juvenile eagles and a slow loris, seized by the wildlife department during an operation against illegal wildlife traders earlier this month. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be $8 billion a year worldwide, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

That makes trafficking in animals one of the biggest sources of funding for organized crime.

Black spotted freshwater turtles are pictured after they were seized in a raid, at Sindh Wildlife Department in Karachi, Pakistan, April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Pangolins like this newborn here are scaly mammals that many think are on their way to extinction because of trafficking. They're considered delicacies and their scales and blood are used in Chinese medicine.

Source: CNN

A newborn baby pangolin climbs the walls of a cage during a news conference at Thai customs in Bangkok April 20, 2011. The Thai custom office showed 175 pangolins they found hidden in a truck heading into Bangkok early this morning. Pangolins, or Manis Javanica, listed as endangered species in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), are found in Southeast Asia. Some people believe that its meat and blood can enhance sexual virility. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Trying to stop the wildlife trade is dangerous, too.

Cambodian police officers hold a python before handing it to members of the NGO WildAid, after it was recovered from smugglers, in Kandal province, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

More than 1,000 wildlife rangers were killed between 2004 and 2014.

A policeman holds a water bottle with a yellow-crested cockatoo put inside for illegal trade, at the customs office of Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, East Java province, Indonesia, May 4, 2015 in this picture taken by Antara Foto. Police arrested one man traveling by ship from Makassar, Sulawesi with 22 of the endangered cockatoos held inside water bottles. REUTERS/Antara Foto/Risyal Hidayat

That means a ranger is killed approximately once every four days.

A Pakistan Customs official releases a falcon in the Kirthar National Park, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Karachi January 24, 2013. Tari Mahmood, Senior Preventive Officer of Pakistan Preventive Customs, said that the customs and the Sindh Wildlife department have released six falcons that were seized during a raid in Karachi two months earlier. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

This baby orangutan was being smuggled out of an Indonesian forest so it could be sold for Rp25 million, or about $2000.

A baby orangutan lies in a plastic crate, after it was seized from a wildlife trafficking syndicate, at a police office in Pekanbaru, Riau province, in this November 9, 2015 picture taken by Antara Foto. According to local media, police investigators arrested individuals from a wildlife trafficking syndicate who were attempting to smuggle out three orangutan babies, ranging between 6 to 12 months of age, from their forest in Aceh with the intention of selling them to buyers in Pekanbaru for the price of Rp25 million per orangutan. REUTERS/FB Anggoro/Antara Foto

This Mexican tarantula was potentially destined for the pet trade.

A veterinarian holds a Mexican Tarantula, which had been rescued with other animals while being trafficked illegally, at the Federal Wildlife Conservation Center on the outskirts of Mexico City May 20, 2011. According to Mexico's Federal Wildlife Conservation Department, at least 2,500 different animals are rescued annually in the country, 70 percent from illegal animal trafficking within and outside the country and 30 percent from domestic captivity. Picture taken May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Poaching threatens to drive many species to extinction, which also destroys local economies that depend on wildlife tourism.

A keeper gives peanut to an orangutan inside a cage shortly after it arrived from Thailand at Halim Perdanakusuma airport in Jakarta, November 12, 2015. Fourteen orangutans smuggled into Thailand illegally were sent back to Indonesia on Thursday, but the operation was not without incident -- one of the powerful apes tore a wildlife officer's finger off when he tried to put them in cages. REUTERS/Beawiharta

A recent analysis found that 2015 marked a return to record highs in the illegal trade in ivory.

Source: World Wildlife Fund

A Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) ranger stacks elephant tusks, part of an estimated 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory to be set ablaze, onto a pyre at Nairobi National Park near Nairobi, Kenya, April 28, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Ugandan officials confiscated this group of African grey parrots. An international conference on the wildlife trade is currently considering a proposal to completely ban trade in these vulnerable birds.

African grey parrots rescued from an illegal trader by Ugandan officials at the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border crossing are seen at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, southwest of the capital Kampala January 12, 2011. Illegal trade in the parrots, which are valued between $300 and $700, has increased in recent years, according a spokeswoman for centre. Picture taken January 12, 2011 REUTERS/James Akena

The US Congress recently passed a law that authorized prosecutors to charge wildlife traffickers for money laundering to finance crime and extremism.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

A turtle is seen as Cambodian police officers handle over wild animals to members of the WildAid NGO, after they were recovered from smugglers in Kandal province, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The new bipartisan legislation, which President Obama is expected to sign, also increases support for wildlife rangers.

A plastic bag containing thousands of confiscated elvers (young eels) are shown to media at a cargo terminal in Ninoy Aquino International airport in Manila July 8, 2012. Airport authorities confiscated some two million elvers, weighing around 949 kg and amounting to 22,000 pesos ($524) per kilo. The elvers were supposed to be shipped to Hong Kong, local media reported. According to Philippine law fingerlings are not to be exported unless for scientific or education purposes. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

The bill also allows the US to transfer military equipment for ranger use.

A slow loris is carried in a cage by a wildlife department official at the head office in Kuala Lumpur March 24, 2015. It was among other animals estimated to be worth $20,000, including juvenile eagles and a Malayan sun bear cub, seized by the wildlife department during an operation against illegal wildlife traders earlier this month. The illegal global wildlife trade is estimated to be $8 billion a year worldwide, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Interpol estimates that only about 10% of the exotic animal trade is currently detected.

Source: National Geographic

An officer holds a baby saltwater crocodile at BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Board) office in Yogyakarta August 10, 2011. The reptile is one of eight baby saltwater crocodiles which survived during a move to Gembiraloka Zoo in Yogyakarta, after officers confiscated 27 of the species about three weeks ago as they were being smuggled from Central Kalimantan province to Central Java for trade. REUTERS/Dwi Oblo

These long-tailed macaque babies were found on a truck crossing from Vietnam into China.

Long-tailed macaque babies are seen inside a basket as police seized a truck smuggling them from Vietnam to China, in Changsha, Hunan province January 8, 2015. Police arrested 11 people on Thursday trying to smuggle at least 100 long-tailed macaques, which is a second grade protected species in China, local media reported. Picture taken January 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer 

These 81 baby iguanas were found in Costa Rica hotel, presumably bound for the pet trade.

Rescued baby iguanas are pictured in a cardboard box, in an office of the Ministry of Environment in San Jose, May 25, 2015. Officers from the national police force of Costa Rica rescued 81 iguanas that had been confined to a box at a hotel in San Jose. It is presumed that the captive iguanas were the subject of an exotic pet smuggling, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of Public Security. The Ministry of the Environment rehabilitated the iguanas to a natural habitat today. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

This Mexican coyote sits in a government facility on the outskirts of Mexico City after being rescued.

A Mexican Coyote, that had been rescued with other animals while being trafficked illegally, is seen through the bars of an enclosure at the Federal Wildlife Conservation Center on the outskirts of Mexico City May 20, 2011. According to Mexico's Federal Wildlife Conservation Department, at least 2,500 different animals are rescued annually in the country, 70 percent from illegal animal trafficking within and outside the country and 30 percent from domestic captivity. Picture taken May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

These falcons, recovered in Pakistan, are worth approximately $9,600 each.

Falcons are seen at the offices of Sindh Wildlife Police after they were seized in Karachi, Pakistan October 13, 2015. Twenty-two falcons worth one million rupees ($9,600) each were seized by the Rangers paramilitary force after they were discovered during a snap inspection along a toll booth, as they were being smuggled from Peshawar to Karachi. The birds were later handed over to Sindh Wildlife Department, reported local media. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

In this case, more than 90 turtles, monkeys, and parrots were found in plastic bags inside a dumpster, ready to be smuggled into El Salvadorean territory.

Terrapins are seen during a news conference in San Salvador October 29, 2014. Authorities of the Ministry of Enviroment of El Salvador rescued about 100 endangered animals abandoned in a dumpster near the border with Honduras on Wednesday morning, local media reported. More than 90 turtles, monkeys and parrots were found in plastic bags ready to be smuggled into Salvadorean territory. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

This woman was caught with 51 tropical fish in an apron when customs officers heard splashing inside her skirt while she tried to catch a flight from Singapore to Melbourne.

A woman on a flight from Singapore to Melbourne shows the 51 live tropical fish hidden in a specially designed apron under her skirt in this handout photograph from the Australian Customs Service on June 3, 2005. Customs officers became suspicious after hearing "flipping" noises coming from the vicinity of her waist, and an examination revealed 15 plastic water-filled bags holding concealed fish. Picture taken June 3, 2005. REUTERS/Handout/Australian Customs Service DG/SA

This coati was part of a group of animals seized in Mexico.

A coati, which had been rescued from a home along with two others of its kind, sits inside its enclosure at the Federal Wildlife Conservation Center on the outskirts of Mexico City May 20, 2011. According to Mexico's Federal Wildlife Conservation Department, at least 2,500 different animals are rescued annually in the country, 70 percent from illegal animal trafficking within and outside the country and 30 percent from domestic captivity. Picture taken May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

A German national shipped these tarantulas into the US, where the Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated them.

Tarantula's confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are shown in this December 3, 2010 handout photo released to Reuters January 18, 2011. A German national who shipped the tarantulas into the United States through the mail pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a federal smuggling charge, prosecutors said. REUTERS/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Handout

This serpent eagle was taken from traffickers in the Philippines.

A serpent eagle sits inside its cage at Manila's police district August 18, 2011. Police seized 69 mynah, 17 assorted turtles and a serpent eagle from illegal traders and turned them over to the Manila zoo, according to authorities. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

These spider monkeys were the lucky ones that survived their transport in a bag found on a bus.

A couple of Spider Monkeys, that had been found on a bus inside a bag with three dead monkeys, rest in a hammock at the Federal Wildlife Conservation Center on the outskirts of Mexico City May 20, 2011. According to Mexico's Federal Wildlife Conservation Department, at least 2,500 different animals are rescued annually in the country, 70 percent from illegal animal trafficking within and outside the country and 30 percent from domestic captivity. Picture taken May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

This black rattlesnake was part of a larger shipment of animals intercepted by Mexican authorities.

A Black Rattlesnake, which had been rescued with other animals while being trafficked illegally, is seen inside a plastic cylinder at the Federal Wildlife Conservation Center on the outskirts of Mexico City May 20, 2011. According to Mexico's Federal Wildlife Conservation Department, at least 2,500 different animals are rescued annually in the country, 70 percent from illegal animal trafficking within and outside the country and 30 percent from domestic captivity. Picture taken May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

"The very survival of elephants, rhinos, tigers and other iconic species is threatened by wildlife trafficking," said John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a statement. "We need to address this crisis now, before it is too late."

A worker holds a green turtle (Chelonia mydas) after unloading it from a truck in Denpasar, capital city of the province of Bali, May 19, 2010. Police said on Tuesday they foiled an attempt to smuggle 71 green turtles for food. The turtles, caught in the waters off Sulawesi Island, have an average weight of 100 kilograms (220 pounds). REUTERS/Murdani Usman

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Animals are sold as pets, consumed as delicacies, and used to create traditional medicines all around the globe.

Scroll through these photos for an inside look at animals that have been rescued.

Related: See some animals we've nearly lost to extinction:

23 PHOTOS
Animals nearly lost to extinction
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Animals nearly lost to extinction

Columbian white-tailed deer

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lake Erie water snake

(Photo: Getty Images)

Concho water snake

Gray whale

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Black bear

(Photo: Reuters)

 Steller sea lion

(Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Virginia northern flying squirrel

(Photo: Alamy)

American Alligator

(Photo: Reuters)

Grey wolf

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Island night lizard

(Photo by Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Eastern grey kangaroo

(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Red Kangaroo

(Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Western grey kangaroo

(Photo by Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)

Morelets Crocodile 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Peregrine Falcon

(Photo: Getty Images)

Brown Pelican 

(Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters)

Bald eagle 

(Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters)

Aleutian Canada goose

(Photo: Alamy)

Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel

(Photo: Getty Images)

Palau Ground Dove
Tinian Monarch 
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