International socioeconomic inequality drives trade patterns in the global wildlife market.
The wildlife trade is a major cause of species loss and a pathway for disease transmission. Socioeconomic drivers of the wildlife trade are influential at the local scale yet rarely accounted for in multinational agreements aimed at curtailing international trade in threatened species. In recent decades (1998-2018), approximately 421,000,000 threatened (i.e., CITES-listed) wild animals were traded between 226 nations/territories. The global trade network was more highly connected under conditions of greater international wealth inequality, when rich importers may have a larger economic advantage over poorer exporting nations/territories. Bilateral trade was driven primarily by socioeconomic factors at the supply end, with wealthier exporters likely to supply more animals to the global market. Our findings suggest that international policies for reducing the global wildlife trade should address inequalities between signatory states, possibly using incentive/compensation-driven programs modeled after other transnational environmental initiatives (e.g., REDD+).