July 24, 2013
Meeting in Des Moines earlier this month at the Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference (ZACC), over 200 conservationists—representing zoos, aquariums, and field work around the world—raised an alarm over the booming wildlife trade. Participants called on governments to commit more ambitious and coordinated action against poachers and smugglers, including beefed up law enforcement and tougher penalties. In addition, they called for more consumer-awareness campaigns about the trade.
"The illegal wildlife trade has become a critical threat to global biodiversity. The demand for wildlife in the form of exotic pets, traditional medicine, and bushmeat is supported by a vast criminal network stretching around the globe linking poachers and consumers," said Quyen Vu, founder and director of Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), who attended the conference. ENV fights wildlife crime across Vietnam, which has become a major consumer nation for many illicit wildlife products.
Dr. Linda Kerley examines confiscated Amur tiger skins in Primorye, Russia, in 1996. Photo by: (c) D. Miquelle, WCS Russia.
While the ZACC conference applauded a recent $10 million commitment by the U.S. government for anti-poaching efforts in Africa, the organization said that this should be seen as a starting point.
"The number of animals for sale in markets out scales their ability to reproduce. The illegal trade is a tragic waste of animal life and meets no human needs, and in fact undermines the future well-being of humankind," said Anna Nekaris with Oxford Brookes University and founder and director of the Little Fireface Project based in Indonesia. Nekaris works with slow lorises, which are increasingly imperiled by an illegal pet trade that often involves killing whole family groups for a single infant. In addition, these little-known primates are killed en masse for traditional medicine.
Conservationists at the meeting noted that the illegal wildlife trade was rarely for subsistence anyone, but rather had become a global industry run by organized criminals; increasingly poachers are heavily-armed, equipped with the latest technologies, and linked to corrupt officials. Experts say these criminals are often also involved with human trafficking, illegal logging, drugs, and weapons. Money from selling illegal wildlife is often used to sew civil conflict and even support terrorism.
This chimp was confiscated in Burundi from an illegal wildlife seller and sent to CSWCT (Ngamba Island), A PASA sanctuary in Uganda. Photo by: JGI/PASA.
Last year, elephant poachers stormed the Okapi Conservation Project's headquarters in Epulu, killing six people and fourteen captive okapis. In addition to plundering the headquarters and village, the poachers kidnapped several women who were eventually returned. Meanwhile, the Guardian has reported that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is trading elephant ivory for weapons.
The wildlife trade has also expanded to the oceans where demand for shark fins has decimated some species. In 2010 experts estimated that 97 million sharks were killed for their fins. Now, smugglers are targeting manta rays for the supposed health benefits of their gill plates.
Traditional Asian medicine is taking its toll on a number of charismatic species, including tigers and rhinos. In the last century, tiger populations have fallen by 95 percent, in part due to relentless poaching for tiger parts. Today, there are more captive tigers in the U.S. than in the wild worldwide. Although scientific studies have shown that rhino horn has no medicinal benefit (and is akin to eating one's fingernails), poaching has recently pushed two rhino subspecies to extinction: the Vietnamese rhino and the western black rhino. Rhino populations are under daily attack, especially in South Africa where this year two rhinos are killed everyday.
Javan slow loris, the most endangered of the loris species, for sale in Java. Photo by: Wawan Tarniwan.
"We are on the verge of losing the last representatives of the world's iconic species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants. These animals have shared the planet with us since the dawn of humankind, and they are in danger of going extinct in the next 50 years," Marc Ancrenaz with the organizations Hutan and the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program in the Malaysian state of Sabah. "Stronger enforcement of existing laws and increased efforts on the ground are urgently needed to halt this tragedy."
Beyond the more well-known species, millions of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and small mammals are vanishing into bushmeat markets, the illegal pet trade, and the traditional medicine industry. Hunting has taken such a toll in some tropical forests, especially in Southeast Asia, that experts have begun to dub some areas as "empty forests."
"It is time to unite globally to take urgent action before the magnificent diversity of the planet is lost along with its roots that are embedded within human cultures," added Quyen Vu.
Baby otter being sold as an exotic pet in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Andrei Yurchenko of Inspection Tiger, a federal Russian anti-poaching team, examines the carcass of a female Amur tiger found in Khasan County, Russia. This animal was captured in a tiger snare, likely for for the wildlife trade, and when the snare was never checked she died and rotted there. Photo by: Inspection Tiger.
An emaciated chained chimp who was rescued in Angola by JGI Chimpanzee Eden (South Africa). The chimp has since made a full recovery. Photo by: JGI Chimp Eden/PASA.
Songbirds for sale as meat in market in Lao PDR. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Wild cat furs sold in China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Dried lizard on a stick sold in a Chinese market. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
|AUTHOR: Jeremy Hance joined Mongabay full-time in 2009. He currently serves as senior writer and editor. He has also authored a book.|
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