These Are the Most Exported Animals in the World

Animals are exported from countries for four primary reasons. The first involves taking them to zoos. The next involves selling them as pets. Animals also may be sent to restaurants or used to create clothing. The number of animals exported for these purposes numbered in the millions over the past several decades. Most are small and clearly aimed at the pet market. A look at animal ownership, at least in America, shows how large the market for exotic pets is.

Outforia’s new study, “Wildlife Trades,” shows that in most years over the past decade, animal exports topped 5 million, according to the wilderness guide’s source, the CITES Trade Database from 1975 to 2021. In one year, the figure was over 10 million. That peak year was 2018. One conclusion from the study was that “In total, around 200 million live animal trades have taken place since 1975 and the trade is largely dominated by a few influential countries.”

The counties that have been the largest pet exporters since 1975 are El Salvador (19.2 million), China (16.0 million), the United States (12.8 million), Colombia (11.7 million), South Africa (10.6 million), Saudi Arabia (9.9 million), France (8.7 million), Peru (7.8 million), Indonesia (7.7 million) and Ghana (6.1 million). Exports from the top country, the research showed, were mostly iguanas and tortoises.

A deeper analysis shows the extent to which the most exported animals become pets. Iguanas were the most exported animals, with a total of 34 million over the last 76 years. According to the report: “Although some were transported to zoos, as investigated below, green iguanas are the most popular imported exotic pet in many countries.”

Iguanas were followed by sturgeon, a fish used to create caviar, and parrots, which usually become pets.

These are the 10 most exported animals since 1976:

  • Iguanas (34.0 million)
  • Sturgeon (25.4 million)
  • Parrots (18.7 million)
  • Leeches (12.6 million)
  • Pythons (8.8 million)
  • Tortoises (8.2 million)
  • Turtles (6.6 million)
  • Arowana (5.9 million)
  • Giant clams (5.9 million)
  • Abalone (5.5 million)

Click here to read about the states with the most pets.