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 

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.

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