The illegal wildlife trade is a problem that has not only put the wild animal’s habitat in danger, but has also supported the rapidly thriving black market. The high price attached to elephants and rhinos’ body parts is the reason why poachers are ruthlessly killing these iconic species. The body parts so obtained are being used to prepare traditional medicine or trinkets which are then sold in the black market.
In the same manner, cheetah and lions are poached for their bones. In Central and West Africa, Great Apes, including chimpanzees, are the victims of the barbaric poachers who hunt these majestic animals for bushmeat. Urban consumers, intoxicated by the overdose of hedonism, associate bushmeat with social status and don’t mind launching a war on the voiceless animals.
This illicit trade, which is the cruel example of the bestiality of the human, also poses a serious threat to countries’ security. Corrupt officials and criminal organizations use their power to exploit weak institutions and porous border to profit off of the trading of the wildlife. The high demand for animals’ body parts and little to zero surveillance over these activities have allowed criminals to endanger the life of wild animals and bring them to the verge of extinction.
The Reason for the Rampant Illegal Wildlife Trade
It’s all about money. Profiteers are attracted to it because of the high-profit margin. Rare species are sold for exceptionally high prices, making the trade a perfect opportunity for people to make quick money. But this unregulated killing of wildlife species has shaken the ecosystem. The number of animals is decreasing at a fast pace, while criminals are killing one after the other to provide for the insatiable human consumption.
At present, following drugs, humans, and arms trafficking, illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative crime which is spread across the globe. Each year, the trafficking generates between $7 and $23 billion. Around $200 million is generated in annual revenue through trophy hunting (undoubtedly a questionable practice). But it is astonishing that only 3% of the fee paid by the hunters reach local communities.
Elephant ivory, tiger products, and rhino horns are in high demand, especially in Asia. The price of rhino horn is close to the most expensive commodity gold only because of a medical myth. In Vietnam, people have been duped into thinking that the horn can cure cancer. This exacerbated the horn’s demand in Asia and led to large-scale poaching in South Africa. This increased the price of the horn to the highest level.
Other reasons for the rampant and unbridled illegal wildlife trade is the growing population and sharp income disparity. Those who have access to resources want to consume a variety of seafood and buy expensive leather goods, medicinal ingredients, textiles, and timbers. On the other hand, abject poverty forces people to see wildlife as a valuable commodity for trade.
Factors like weak laws, compromised and fractured judicial systems, light sentences for criminals, and corruption drive criminal networks to continue with their work with impunity.
What Are the Effects of This Illegal Wildlife Trafficking
Besides letting criminals have an easy pass to generating money and destroying the habitat of the wildlife, this illegal trafficking also has devastating effects on the functioning of the very ecosystem on which we rely on.
The mindless exploitation has varying effects on the planet. Our life is dependent on the well-thought-out use of wildlife and their habitats. The example of overfishing which has caused an imbalance in the marine system should have been a wakeup call.
In addition, several wildlife traders and buyer introduce invasive species which, in turn, prey on native species and disturb the balance of nature. For example, in Florida, pet Burmese pythons are now considered a major pest after their owners let them loose. Experts now mull over if ever they will be able to get rid of the python who have now invaded Florida’s Everglades.
It is also pertinent to mention that the way these animals are being killed is ruthless and barbaric. It is a known fact that marine species are killed through by catch. The killing of land animals is not less cruel. Crude traps that are placed for catching musk deer cause death to a variety of animals other than the deer — which also receives injuries because of this cruel activity.
Commitment to Break the Chain
Modern trade requires more than one channel for its smooth performance. Transportation and logistic is one such sector that plays an important role in the modern economy. For years, it has played a vital role in the transporting of wildlife products and wild animals. Keeping in view the grotesque exploitation of the country’s wildlife, the transportation industry has implied several measures to break the supply chain. It has taken critical steps to identify, and subsequently eliminate, risks along the supply chain.
In 2015, in collaboration with USAID, the Wildlife Trafficking Response Assessment and Priority Setting (TRAPS) Project, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and TRAFFIC held a two-day meeting in which delegates from airlines, shipping, and logistics companies had a discussion to deter wildlife smuggling.
In the same year, 17 companies operating in China pledged zero tolerance towards illegal wildlife trade. These companies dominate 95% of China’s courier market and included some big names such as FedEx, SF Express, EMS, and DHL. Within a short while, the declaration of the United for Wildlife International Taskforce on the Transportation of Illegal Wildlife Products, which was signed by 40 organizations, agencies, and corporations, outlined commitments to put an end to the illegal trade. Many airlines, resultantly, put a ban on trophy hunting.
The Present Actions — Are They Enough?
As of now, the advocates for the wildlife treat poaching and hunting as a threat to the environment and the endangered animals. As a result, and quite unfortunately, governments around the world are not taking sufficient steps to put an end to this activity.
What the authorities have been missing out is the link of wildlife trafficking with serious crimes. The trade is a staple in facilitating corruption, money laundering, and the financing of rebel groups. But these points are not discussed because of which the governments are not as quick in tackling this problem as they have been dealing with another form of illegal trade.
Also, both source and consumer countries are quick to blame each other for the rise in the illegal wildlife trafficking with both the parties not taking enough steps to put an end to it. While consumer trends determine demand, there is literally not enough analysis of consumer habits of the emerging middle class in markets like Asia’s.
When it comes to the supply side, the concerned have only looked into rangers in protected areas. This approach has been ineffective as it has completely neglected the other aspects that can curb the trade. In any case, the increase in poaching is sufficient evidence to conclude that investment in frontline protection is a staple if the governments are serious about saving endangered animals.
What Else Can be Done
The first step that governments ought to take is to realize the threat that illicit wildlife traffic poses to the sovereignty of the very governments. This is the only way through which the governments can treat the crime for what it is and then take effective steps to reduce illegal wildlife trade.
The second step for the government is to strengthen collaborative mechanisms such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)so that strict regulations can be easily carried out. In addition, the governments who are lax should be held accountable and, if necessary, sanctions should be applied to halt wildlife trafficking.
It is also important for the government to collaborate with the private sector and the civil society to create awareness among people and reduce the incentives that lead to the demand of endangered species. In addition, it is equally necessary to collaborate with these two pillars for gaining an insight into the economic and social value of wildlife. The partnership will go a long way in carrying out conservation activities and reducing the incentives for supply countries. Proper work should be carried out to reduce both the demand and the supply of wildlife animals and their products. Reducing one while ignoring the other will not have desired results.
In essence, the following steps are required to halt the illicit trade of wildlife animals and their products:
- Illegal trade can be reduced if each country prohibits the possession of wildlife that was illegally traded from or harvested in anywhere else in the world.
- The existing trade controls do not extend to domestic markets. So, national laws should be passed to conserve wildlife.
- For effective conservation policy and enforcement strategy, wide research should be carried out, and the areas that are more vulnerable should be monitored.
- Technology such as satellites or drones can be easily used for the surveillance of hot spot areas.
- The coordination of national and international authorities is also vital if the governments intend to bring down both the supply and demand curves.
- The investigations of poaching incidents should be carried out thoroughly to trace the person or organization who collects the hunt fee. Strict punishments should be handed out to criminals so that such practices are reduced.
The issue of illegal trade cannot be resolved in a short time. Also, there is an immediate need to involve all shareholders and collaborate on both international and national levels to deal with the crisis. As Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, put it beautifully well: “We all share a responsibility to act where we can. Hidden in fashion or furniture, as food or pets, the products of wildlife and forest crime find their way into our homes and lives, so we all have a responsibility to act”.