The Illegal Wildlife Trade industry is a booming one, all thanks to the ever increasing demand for plant and animal products, such as food, leather, ornamental plants, medicine and garments, etc. With an estimation of over $10 billion a year, the illegal wildlife trade industry is going from rags to riches in no time. A report by the Wildlife Conservation Fund (WCS) revealed the massiveness of the situation. Says Elizabeth Bennet, director of WCS’s Hunting and Wildlife Trade Program,
“Today, anything large enough to be eaten or lucrative enough to be sold is hunted on a massive scale for its meat, skin, fur, or feathers, for the pet trade, or as an ingredient in traditional medicines.”
The wildlife population is declining and one of the major contributors for this deterioration is us consumers. A good deal of wildlife trade is legal and does not harm the animals in any way; however, a large part of the trade is illegal and threatens the survival of many endangered species. It is mainly driven by high profit margins and the high prices paid for rare species. As active consumers, it is us who have to question the genuinity of what we buy when we buy wildlife products.
What comprises wildlife trade? When people sell or exchange wild animal or plant resources, it is called wildlife trade; and it is very easy to track especially when it is from one country to the other, since it must be checked and recorded at Customs checkpoints. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has calculated that wildlife products worth around $160 billion were imported around the globe each year in the early 1990s. If you think this is a big amount, then wait for this. There is also a large and highly profitable illegal wildlife trade conducted so covertly that its worth is not precisely known. Wildlife crime is a big business which is run by huge and dangerous international networks. Wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms.
The report by the World Wildlife Fund focuses on highlighting the compliance of around 23 nations with an international treaty regulating wildlife trade. It evaluates how certain countries have held up their commitments as part of the treaty. The report also pointed out to the plight of three species sought after on the international black market: Elephants, Tigers and Rhinoceroses. Some bright spots included India and Nepal, who have been successful in living up to their commitments.
However, many countries are still finding it difficult to maintain the compliance. The western black rhino went extinct in the last decade. Although there are laws that prohibit the illegal trade of wildlife, the problem doesn’t cease to exist. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty signed by 175 nations, makes all commercial trade in rhino horns, elephant ivory, tiger parts and other species threatened with extinction illegal. However, legal measures are insufficient to curtail illegal trade on the internet.
Here’s a video about the Illegal Wildlife Trade in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Why should we save wildlife?
Between 1970 and 2000, species on earth declined by an average 40%, the cause for which is charged to wildlife trade, after habitat destruction. Now, one of the major problems with wildlife trade is that it can cause overexploitation. As human population expands, the demand for wildlife increases which ultimately leads to overexploitation to the point where the survival of a species is at stake. This overexploitation harms human livelihoods as well, for example, many people in the developing world largely depend on the continued availability of local wildlife resources. This can endanger species, pass infectious diseases across borders, spread invasive organisms to different ecosystems and in turn disrupt the balance in nature. When it comes to illegal wildlife trade, the conditions in which animals are obtained and transported are environmentally damaging. The existence of illegal trade is also worrying because it weakens nations’ efforts to save their natural resources.
To highlight the tip of the iceberg, thousands of African elephants are being killed by poachers each year for their tusks, with China and Thailand being the top destinations for illegal African ivory. Last year witnessed the highest elephant poaching rates across the African continent. Early this year hundreds of elephants were killed in a single incident in a Cameroon national park. The report ‘Wildlife Crime Scorecard’ found that the situation could go more critical, given the rise in elephant poaching in Africa and the increased levels of organized crime involved in the trade.
- Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons (equivalent to 2500 elephants) was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011.
- Poaching threatens the last of our wild tigers that number as few as 3200.
Key Takeaway for Consumers:
Urgent changes are needed quickly if world leaders want to preserve Earth’s biodiversity into the future, say researchers. A report by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) says that the public needs to be informed of how their purchases could be leading animals into extinction. IFAW is also campaigning in China to reduce consumer demand for tiger body parts and to close down cruel tiger farming businesses.
In order to stop illegal wildlife trade, individuals who buy wildlife products have to be persuaded to make different buying choices. So, here’s a list of things that consumers should avoid buying, as outlined by the IFAW report:
Ivory – carved into chopsticks, hair clips, name stamps and ornaments
- Turtle shells – made into jewellery, hair combs and sunglass frames
- Reptile skins – used in handbags, shoes, watch straps and belts
- Shahtoosh shawls – made by killing Tibetan antelopes
- Sea shells – especially Queen Conch and giant clams
- Traditional medicines – containing tiger, bear or rhino
- Furs, claws, Teeth, butterflies, coral, seahorses, birds’ eggs, stuffed animals or caviar.
Many of these products come from endangered animals and moreover, are illegal. Some even require a special permit. If you refuse to buy these products and discourage others also to do the same, you are reducing their demand; in turn increasing survival of species.
Before you need a product that comes from endangered animals, think twice. Buy local handicrafts and keep animals alive.
Here’s a video that talks about how wildlife trade can affect the human health as well:
Feature Image: http://bit.ly/OiidB3
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