Contrary to popular belief, it is no longer poverty that drives poaching of rare and endangered species and the illegal wildlife trade but rather wealth. If it’s rare, people want it–and use that product to show off their wealth. As a result, demand for luxury goods — from ivory to tiger bone wine to rhino horns to shahtoosh shawls — is at the heart of wildlife trafficking. While poverty stricken farmers do still poach and sell protected species in an effort to provide for their families, more often organized networks are responsible for hiring local people to do their killing.
The upside is that this demand is often based on what’s “cool” at the moment — and these tastes change. While it is legal to sell bear bile (used in traditional medicine) inside China, many health practitioners are now turning away from it. Similarly, shark fin soup is becoming less fashionable in Hong Kong.
Public opinion can change. And awareness of the issues can help. For more from the New York Times Green Blog on “As Incomes Rise, So Does Animal Trade,” click here.