Going, Going, Gone! Animal Trafficking Threatens Many Endangered Species

From Living Green Magazine:

Going, Going, Gone! Animal Trafficking Threatens Many Endangered Species

November 15, 2012

caged bear
By Erin McLaughlin

If you’re like most people, you have read heart wrenching stories and perhaps watched documentaries about the illicit trading of drugs, weapons, women, and children. But how often do you hear about the illegal trafficking of our planet’s most endangered wildlife?

Animal trafficking is a horrific and widespread problem that has gone largely ignored in mainstream global media – until now.

As a 20 billion dollar industry, animal trafficking has made its mark on the black market rather quietly compared to drug and arms dealing, yet remains the third largest illegal activity in the eyes of the United Nations and the second largest for Interpol.

The estimation of some 38 million wild animals being captured and sold in Brazil alone is enough to get people’s attention, isn’t it? Perhaps not. The fact that an overwhelming ten to ninety percent of animals captured die during their treacherous journey is partly why the issue remains unnoticed by the global media.

It doesn’t help that a relatively small percentage of wildlife trade is considered legal and regulated and thus ‘okay’ by some standards. According to Dr. Laurel A. Neme, an international consultant specializing in natural resource management and wildlife advocacy with extensive experience working with global environmental organizations, the small risks and penalties associated with animal trafficking, especially the trading of endangered species, give any organization with the proper methods the ability to import and export as easily as they please.

This is in part because authorities have a difficult time catching these criminals as a result of massive land areas where they trade, very limited numbers of enforcement officers patrolling in these remote places and, until recently, few proper wildlife forensic labs in which to link evidence to the criminals. The rate at which criminals are apprehended in most regions is less than ten percent.

Arguably much worse is the way the animals themselves are handled and transported. By taping beaks and mouths shut and stuffing highly sought after tropical birds and monkeys into stockings and hidden compartments of suitcases, traffickers are able to ensure their goods get across the border without a voice, and often without eyesight. Many birds end up with perforated eyes so that they can’t react to the light and are squished into objects like PVC tubes or basketballs. A staggering number of animals are captured for pet trade specifically and endangered species sold live are drugged and abused every step of the way.

Once captured, endangered primates, tigers, birds, and reptiles are just some of the species marketed as exotic pets. Other jeopardized species end up as coats and fashion accessories, home décor, imported exotic meats, or as nothing more than chemical compounds in traditional medicines.

The legal wildlife trade by itself reportedly includes over 25,000 primates, 2 to 3 million birds, 10 million reptile skins, and over 500 million tropical fish. It’s painful to imagine how many illegally trafficked animals die under the radar for these products every year, every day. The actual number remains unknown.

To traffickers, the value of these animals who have evolved over millions of years and, let’s be honest, deserve to be on this earth just as much as we do based on that principle alone, is nothing but a dollar sign. Dr. Neme’s studies and extensive research speak for themselves. “Ounce for ounce, products such as rhino horn and deer musk can be worth more than gold or cocaine,” she states.

Additionally, Dr. Neme reported on a study done by the United Kingdom office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare which covered five areas of the English product trade market over the course of seven days. Products (i.e. animals) ranged anywhere from a $70,000 live two-year-old Siberian tiger, $65,000 chimpanzees, and an $8,200 seven-year-old gorilla. Elephant products alone amounted to over 5,500 individual listings in that time period with single ivory sculptures hitting the $18,000 mark.

“[The IFAW study] revealed well over 9,000 separate offerings by private individuals and traders. Of these, about three-quarters (6,750) were from protected species whose trade was illegal,” Dr. Neme concluded.

If these animals manage to be rescued from traffickers, they are often too weak or ill to be released back into the wild, especially infants who have not learned how to properly fend for themselves. In these cases the animals are kept in captivity until they can be shipped back to their country of origin. When they can’t find a home at a care center to be rehabilitated, they’re as good as dead. With global deforestation, poaching, and climate changes, don’t these animals have it hard enough as it is?

Imagine twenty years from now showing our children or grandchildren pictures of Bengal tigers and African elephants, Toco toucans and Spider monkeys, because photographs are the only remnants of these creatures.

Fortunately, illegal animal trafficking isn’t an untouchable problem. It also isn’t an issue solely for Africa or Asia or any of the countries where the most famous of our endangered species originate. It’s happening everywhere and, as it’s largely an issue still in the dark, it’s up to all of us to bring it to the surface and take action.

Learn about and donate to organizations like the Wildlife Alliance which use funds to rescue animals from illegal trade practices and support ranger patrols to protect wildlife and their habitats. Give back and spread awareness about the shelters that house rescued animals and forensic labs that prove their captors guilty.

In the absence of stricter government laws and regulations, the best way to combat illegal animal trafficking and help these animals is to simply give them a voice before its too late.

For more information on Dr. Laurel A. Neme, please visit her website at www.laurelneme.com.

Erin McLaughlin returned to Canada to focus on writing and publishing after earning a BA degree in English at the University of Toledo (Ohio). As a freelance writer, proofreader, and copywriter based near Toronto, Ontario, Erin has collaborated with marketing and industrial companies around the province and continues to build on a passionate interest in eco-conservation while working directly with the founder of Rain Tees and Andira International. She has explored parts of the United States, Canada, Europe, and China, and is working towards publishing fiction.

Environmental News from Living Green Magazine – Where Green Is Read

Elephants slaughtered, orphan found in latest Africa poaching

From World News on NBC News:

Elephants slaughtered, orphan found in latest Africa poaching

By Miguel Llanos, NBC News

SOS Elephants

These elephants are part of the herd that saw more than 30 members slaughtered.

The government of Chad said it was searching for poachers who slaughtered part of an elephant herd, while a conservation group said it had found an orphaned infant near the slaughter site.

SOS Elephants, which is based in the Central African nation of Chad, said it had counted more than 30 carcasses in the slaughter on Tuesday.

Poachers on horseback fired on the herd, which was across the river from an educational site run by the nonprofit.

The group said on its Facebook page that since the slaughter happened deep inside Chad it was probably the work of a local poaching gang, not armed groups from neighboring countries.Photos posted on the page showed elephants with their trunks cut off, indicating the poachers were after the tusks. The illegal ivory trade is booming across Africa due to demand from Asia for ivory trinkets.

SOS Elephants founder Stephanie Vergniault noted that the slaughter was near an oil refinery run by a Chinese company, CNPC. In the past, she posted, "several of their employees" have been caught at the Chad airport "with ivory in their luggage."

SOS Elephants

One of the slaughtered elephants, with its trunk hacked off.

Vergniault on Saturday told NBC News she had contacted the security chief at the airport and he promised to get "his people to double check all luggage, mainly the luggage belonging to the Chinese."

On the Facebook page, Vergniault added it was "very likely" the orphaned infant's mother was among the elephants killed. "Very sad, very hard moments," she wrote.

Vergniault urged Chad to create a special law enforcement unit to protect its elephants, and stiffen prison time for poaching. "The poachers need to go 20 years to jail, not 2 years!" she posted.

A wildlife activist who has followed the work of SOS Elephants said getting milk supplies for the orphaned elephant will be critical.

SOS Elephants

This orphaned elephant, nicknamed Savi, did not survive after her mother was slaughtered in an earlier poaching incident. SOS Elephants founder Stephanie Vergniault is with her.

"It's difficult to raise elephants, and one problem is getting the right milk formula -- which is very expensive and is shipped from Europe," Laurel Neme told NBC News.

Nicknamed Toto, the 3-week-old male will possibly be shipped to a large elephant shelter in Kenya, said Neme, who tracks wildlife issues on her website.

"Hopefully what will happen," said Neme, who noted Toto stands a better chance than another recent orphan, nicknamed Savi, that died.

Chad's elephant population is estimated at around 3,000 — a sharp drop since the 1980s, when it had around 20,000, according to SOS Elephants.

"Tomorrow will be simply too late," Prince William warns as Africa's magnificent wild animals are mercilessly and illegally poached at a rate not seen for decades.

The slaughter occurred as nations that are part of a wildlife treaty met to work out issues such as the illegal ivory trade.

As those talks wrapped up Friday, a motion by some African nations to allow the legal sale of ivory from elephants not killed by poachers was tabled for a later meeting.

Conservation groups urged signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to oppose the move, and to get tougher on the illegal wildlife trade.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), said elephant and rhino poaching are at record levels and that countries where poaching is rampant should be barred from the international trade in wildlife.

"We should not be shy about using CITES trade suspensions as an international tool to prevent a full-blown elephant crisis," said TRAFFIC's Tom Milliken said in a statement issued by the WWF on Friday.

Just days after Rock Center aired Harry Smith's report, "The Last Stand," on the growing epidemic of illegal rhino poaching in South Africa, three of the rhinos featured in the report were attacked by poachers. Rock Center's Harry Smith reports.

On Monday, WWF said in a report that "the illegal killing of elephants in Africa is at the highest levels ever recorded, and the epicenter for poaching is Central Africa where elephant populations are experiencing localized extinctions."

Central African governments this week announced a plan to protect their wildlife, but its effectiveness is a question mark.

"It is critical that the plan is rapidly implemented because time is running out for the elephants of this region," Colman O Criodain, WWF’s wildlife trade specialist, said in the statement.

Review of ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS in Uganda's Daily Monitor

I'm honored that my book ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS received such a great review in the Daily Monitor of Uganda, a country on the front lines of wildlife trafficking. I'm particularly humbled because the reviewer is a Senior Warden Investigator for the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

As seen on the Sierra Club - The Green Life

The Green Life—Wednesday Book Roundup: Books By and About Eco-Heroes such as Jeff Corwin and Laurel Neme

Sierra Club-The Green Life Web Site Screen Shot

Animal Investigators: How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species (by Laurel A. Neme, $25, Simon and Schuster, Apr. 2009): This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the animal kingdom’s CSI equivalent: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory. It's a one-of-a-kind institution fully dedicated to investigating wildlife crimes and staffed by scientists who painstakingly piece together the physical evidence needed to bring criminals to justice. Neme examines three particular cases involving bear gallbladders, walrus heads, and a feathered headdress from the Amazon, detailing the challenges researchers faced and how they overcame them to help stem illegal hunting and trafficking. It’s a technical read, but conservationists and the science-minded will appreciate the in-depth look at this critical line of work.

Laurel Neme: Wildlife Crime Documentation

By Rebekah K. Murray

Page from LSA Fall 2009 on Laurel Neme

They were dead: dozens of elephants with missing tusks. It was 1992, and Tanzania’s chief wildlife officer, Musa Mohammed Lyimo, suspected that the elephants had been killed for their ivory tusks. But how could he prove it?

Eight years later, Laurel Neme (’85, M.P.P. ’86) sat in Lyimo’s office and heard what happened. Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory discovered that the poachers used agricultural chemicals as poison. The poison was injected into pumpkins, a favorite treat for elephants, and then scattered around watering holes. With poison, the tusks easily slip out of the elephant a few days after the animal dies.

While explaining this to Neme, Lyimo’s phone rang. There was a report of hippos being poisoned for their ivory teeth. “I realized this wasn’t going to stop, and I wanted to do something about it,” says Neme, an environmental public policy consultant at the time.

“Almost every protected species is affected,” Neme says, adding that wildlife smuggling may be worth as much as $20 billion annually, ranking just behind drugs and human trafficking

Neme began researching and writing about the cases sent to the world’s only wildlife forensics lab, which opened in 1989 in Ashland, Oregon. Her book, Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, was published by Scribner last spring. It’s written as a true-crime novel and shows how forensic science can link poachers and dealers to their crimes. Elephants are just one species affected. The illegal trade includes bear gallbladders, rare feathers, tiger teeth, and more. “Almost every protected species is affected,” Neme says, adding that wildlife smuggling may be worth as much as $20 billion annually, ranking just behind drugs and human trafficking.

What’s more, poachers aren’t just poverty-stricken lone hunters, Neme says. Organized crime networks and terrorist groups are involved. News reports have accused a Somali warlord, Sudan’s Janjaweed militia, rogue military gangs in Congo, and al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militants of poaching to fund their activities.

To prove that a crime has occurred, wildlife agents must show that the affected animals are protected species. That’s where the lab comes in. Just like in police crime labs, scientists at the wildlife forensics lab use evidence such as fingerprints, tire tracks, bullets, gunshot residue, poisons, and DNA to reveal what might have happened to the animal and to identify possible suspects. But the wildlife scientists have an extra job. If they’re given a gallbladder, paw, feather, or even pills, they have to identify which animal species the sample is from. The 24 scientists at the wildlife forensics lab deal with over 30,000 species and handle an average of 600 cases a year.

“I hope people will become aware that wildlife trafficking is really an issue,” Neme says.

It’s also not a problem confined to Africa or Asia. Remember the dead elephants? Who would think of buying those tusks?

“The United States is one of the biggest importers of illegal elephant ivory,” Neme says. “I hope people will start to think about what they buy.”

Click here to download full PDF: 3.4 MB