Illegal Trade In Wildlife
The butterfly effect says that a small change in current state can result in large difference at a later stage, which means no decision is small. Even something as simple as going to market and picking out a product, can make a huge difference somewhere.
To make sure that the effects are positive lets dive into the information you need to make a responsible choice.
Each year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist curios, and medicine. While a great deal of this trade is legal and is not harming wild populations, a worryingly large proportion is illegal — and threatens the survival of many endangered species.
With overexploitation being the second-largest direct threat to many species after habitat loss, WWF addresses illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as a priority issue. It is often said that illegal wildlife trade is the third most valuable illicit commerce behind drugs and arms.
How does it affect you?
An ecosystem is a community of natural bodies that live and work together in an interconnected system depending on each other to continue the life cycle. It’s this circle of life that maintains the balance within ecology.
The over-harvesting of animals and plants does not only affect that individual species, but causes a wider imbalance in the whole system. As human life depends on the existence of a functioning planet Earth, careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats is required to avoid not only extinctions, but serious disturbances to the complex web of life.
Wildlife trade can also cause indirect harm through:
- Introducing invasive species which then prey on, or compete with, native species. Many invasive species have been purposely introduced by wildlife traders; examples include the American Mink, the Red-eared Terrapin and countless plant species.
- Incidental killing of non-target species. It is estimated that over a quarter of the global marine fisheries catch is incidental, unwanted, and discarded. These cause damage and death to a variety of animals besides the intended ones.
The species traded are often already highly threatened and in danger of extinction, conditions under which wildlife is transport are often appalling, operators are unscrupulous and do not care how they damage the environment (for example they use cyanide to kill fish).
Life forms have been a source of inspiration and knowledge for a long time. For example, submarines are modeled on fish movement, electronic robots that can detect land mines were based on nematodes and airplanes were modeled after birds.
Apart from this, the research of Susanna Curtin at Bournemouth University indicates that ecotourists experience a tremendous sense of contentment from their wildlife encounters which makes them psychologically healthy.
Illegal trade undermines nations’ efforts to manage their natural resources sustainably and causes massive economic losses in lost earnings. Wildlife is vital to the lives of a high proportion of the world’s population, often the poorest.
Some rural households depend on local wild animals for their meat protein and on local trees for fuel, and both wild animals and plants provide components of traditional medicines used by the majority of people in the world. Many people in the developing world depend entirely on the continued availability of local wildlife resources.
Substances like timber, tusk, ivory, paper, gums, fur, leather, honey etc are very popular and hence very likely to be illegally traded. Since these trades are conducted covertly no-one can judge their worth. In some communities, goats and cows can be bartered in exchange for goods and services.
The macaw-bellied yellow or blue and yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) is a macaw that occurs from Central America to Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. The macaw canindé faces several issues regarding extinction, are threatened primarily by smuggling and the illegal trade in birds. Info and Photo credit Digo_Souza
Scale on which it is happening
- In 2007, 13 rhinos were killed for their horns by poachers in South Africa, but that increased to a shocking 1,004 in 2013. That equates to three rhinos being poached per day!
- Populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000 – and the second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade.
- Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 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 3,200.
- The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is a known center of illicit wildlife trade, and the sale of lizards, primates, and other endangered species has been widely documented.
- Trade routes connecting in Southeast Asia link Madagascar to the United States (for the sale of turtles, lemurs, and other primates), Cambodia to Japan (for the sale of slow Loris as pets).
There are various organizations currently working to tackle this situation and end it effectively. For example,
- ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN)
- South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN)
- Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory
- TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network
The international wildlife trade is a serious conservation problem, addressed by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which currently has 170 member countries called Parties. Many countries still lack strict national legislation and/or appropriate penalties for illegal wildlife trade.
To address this challenge, WWF helps countries comply with CITES regulations by helping to develop programmes, assists enforcement efforts and funds anti-poaching brigades. WWF and TRAFFIC carry out cutting-edge research which is used to create new plans for dealing with the illegal wildlife trade and also helps them promote the inclusion of new species in the CITES appendices or resolutions.
What you can do?
We should make informed choices when buying wildlife-based products. This includes not just the people buying the end product, but also shop-keepers, suppliers, and manufacturers. If we make sure not to buy the illegally sold wildlife products, we are attacking the problem at its center by making it a non-viable source of income.
Limiting trade in a particular species will control the damage being done to the environment, but enforcing this can be a real challenge especially in developing countries where equipment and training are often lacking. So we can do our part by incorporating responsible choices in our daily lives.
Photo by Chris Ruggles
Deepti Chauhan graduated in Computer Science from Delhi College of Engineering after which she worked with Samsung as a software developer for 2 years. Deepti joined Earth5R to build changes that she wanted to see around herself, for the society and for the planet. She feels that to change the world we should start changing ourselves.