• Wildlife trade and poaching
Wildlife trade Is defined as the unlawful harvest of and trade in live animals and plants or parts and products derived from them. Wildlife is traded as skins, leather goods or souvenirs, as food or traditional medicine or as pets. Of course, you can also throw in the illegal logging of protected forests to supply the demand for exotic woods, to the illegal fishing of endangered marine life for food and the poaching of elephants to supply the demand for ivory.
Although widely illegal in a variety of countries, the dark market for exotic wildlife trade and poaching is a booming multi-billion dollar business. There has also been a spike in the recent decade which threatens to overturn decades worth of conservation efforts. 23 metric tons - which represents 2,500 elephants - was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011. Keep in mind, that is just the 13 largest seizures, not necessarily all of them.
Similar to the drug or arms market, illegal wildlife trade and poaching is run by big international networks in a multitude of countries including the United States and United Kingdom. Yes, right under our nose, in large part because the fact that the United States is one of the largest consumers of the world's wild animals.
We all just love Seaworld, dolphin parks and circuses. Unfortunately, those places have a documented bad track record for the way they treat their animals.
Most people when asked would say they are wildlife lovers - I mean who wouldn’t, the are some of the most majestic wonders on our planet - but according to a poll published by WildAid in October 2016, less than 20 percent of the public knows anything about the illegal wildlife trade that is flourishing in the United States.
I’m sure you have heard of the ivory and rhino horn being traded in Africa and Southeast Asia, but those are headliners. What about pets like exotic birds and reptiles? Did you know millions of those ‘pets’ are traded illegally. Also, did you know that capturing these animals and then transporting them - sometimes in containers as small as water bottles - kills a substantial amount before they get to your local pet store.
Wildlife trade is completely unsustainable, and harms scores of wild populations of plants and animals around the globe, pushing them toward extinction. Once endangered, these animals become more of a hot commodity and sought after because of their rare mystique.
I mentioned the rhino example above well let me explain; the world’s rhino species are being poached on a horrendous scale as demand for their horns increases in Asia. Rhino horn is considered to be a powerful Chinese medicine that is used to treat a variety of ailments including fever, hallucinations, headaches, gout, and rheumatism. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though that there is little to no scientific evidence to support these claims, essentially because rhino horn is made up of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up your hair and fingernails.
Tens of thousands of elephants are poached each year just for their ivory tusks that are carved into ornaments, jewelry and piano keys.
Poaching threatens the dwindling wild tiger population as 50 were documented as being poached by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) in 2016. It is estimated that 3,890 remain in the wild.
An estimated 200,000 sharks are barbarically killed each year as part of the shark fin trade for a Chinese delicacy known as shark-fin soup. In the film Racing Extinction that I mentioned in part one, one of the activists gets on a fishing boat and witnesses how they harvest the fins. Fisherman catch multiple species of shark and simply chop off their fins while the shark is still alive, only to then drop them back into the ocean - after retrieving their prize - causing them to float to the bottom and drown because they cannot swim and move oxygen through their gills.
Dolphins are still butchered along the fishing villages in Japan (a process revealed in The Cove) as the Taiji Fishermen’s Union allows for 1,873 cetaceans (whales and dolphins) to be captured or slaughtered during the hunting season. If you haven’t seen the film, these fishermen herd the dolphin, like a flock of sheep, with long metal rod that is dipped into the water and then struck with a mallet. Once they direct them into a cove, the fishermen close off the area with nets, preventing any from escaping. After allowing the dolphins to calm down overnight, the fishermen enter the cove with small boats and catch them one at a time, either killing them or if they are aesthetically appealing, capturing them and selling them off to the highest bidder of dolphin parks and aquariums alike around the world. Some command over $100,000 per dolphin.
You still fancy a trip to Seaworld?
How about manta rays. Hundreds - and in some regions in Indonesia more that 1,000 a year - are killed. Not for food though, they are killed for their gill rakers which filter plankton. These gills are in high demand, like rhino horn, for several Chinese medicines. There is a belief that they can cure cancer. Like the rhino horn, these medicines lack any scientific support.
We can all do our part by researching where our products come from and what impacts they have on the environment. Only buy products that are made sustainably and don’t have a negative effect on wildlife. Stop buying ivory, exotic pets and trips to parks that don’t practice a conservation message. We need to be more cognisant of our actions that can be detrimental to some of the real beauty this planet has to offer; our wildlife.
Otherwise, our youth might grow up with a fraction of the animals that inhabit it now, and that is just sad.
How about we drain that swamp?
Author note: I had the privilege of working as an instructor at the Honolulu Zoo so I was able to promote a conservation message to the surrounding community. While zoo’s are criticized for how they promote conservation while containing animals, it is important to keep in mind that many of these animals were born in captivity, and thus cannot be released into the wild because they wouldn’t have the skills to survive on their own. Zoo’s do have a good track record of saving some animals near the brink of extinction though. In Honolulu, we have two sumatran tigers name Berani and Chrissy, there are only around 500 in the wild, that have bred four times. There are also nature parks around the world that you can volunteer, which take in abused animals and treat them before releasing them back into the wild. I plan to do one in Costa Rica this year working with spider monkeys, sloths and various species of birds.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or NCW Media as a whole.
Zach Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or (509) 682-2213.
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