Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Impact of Illegal and Legal Wildllife Trade

         Illegal wildlife trade is a $20 billion dollar a year industry, and overall legal and illegal wildlife trafficking is worth about $160 billion dollars a year globally.  Every year billions of plants and animals are taken from the wild and sold as food, pets, leather, tourist curios, and medicine.  A lot of this wildlife trade is legal, although a large portion of the trade is illegal and deals with endangered and protected species.  Globally, populations of species have declined by an average of 40% between 1970 and 2000. Wildlife trade is the second biggest threat to species survival, after habitat destruction.  This trade causes the overexploitation of species, which harms human livelihoods and the balance of ecosystems, introduces invasive species, and results in the death of non-target species.
The biggest problem associated with wildlife trade is the overexploitation of species, to the point where their survival is at risk.  Overexploitation can cause extinctions or threaten species.  Popular examples of exploited species include rhinoceroses and elephants, which are killed for their horns and tusks.  Overexploitation is a concern because it can harm human livelihoods. Wildlife is vital in the lives of a high proportion of the world’s population.  Rural households often depend on wild animals for meat and trees and plants for fuel and medicine.  Many people in developing countries depend entirely on the continued availability of local wild animals and plants for their survival.     
The overharvesting of plants and animals also upsets the balance of nature and severely impacts biodiversity.  For example, the illegal poaching of elephants for ivory threatens the survival of a keystone species.  The loss of a keystone species within an ecosystem will negatively affect that ecosystem.Humans depend on the existence of a functioning planet, and to maintain the balance that is needed in order to not disturb the complex web of life on this planet, the careful use and management of wildlife species is required.  Bottom line: the controlled and uncontrolled wildlife trade poses a threat to the survival of several species worldwide, especially species that are currently endangered or threatened.  

An example of overharvesting: tortoises for sale at a wildlife market in southern China.

From Vietnam to L.A.: Songbirds

Sony Dong, charged with smuggling songbirds into the United States. He strapped 14 of the birds to his legs and attempted to walk out of the Los Angeles International Airport.

According to Fish and Wildlife Service agent Erin Dean, there are several ways to traffic wildlife in Southern California, such as LAX (the 6th busiest airport in the world), the Port of Los Angeles (the busiest port in the nation), and the Mexican border.  There are only 207 special agents and 126 wildlife inspectors in the U.S., and they have a large area to cover with a small amount of people.  In 2009, a man was detained flying in from Vietnam.  The man didn’t really look suspicious, but upon further investigation bird droppings were seen on top of this man’s shoes.  This man had strapped 14 songbirds to his legs which remained on him for the entire flight.

From Asia to China and Vietnam: Pangolin
Pangolins and a tortoise await their death at a wildlife market.

            Pangolins are one of the most endangered mammal groups in the world.  There are four species of Asian pangolins, and all of them are endangered or threatened.  These animals are one of the most frequently encountered mammals in Asia’s illegal wildlife trade.  It’s not uncommon for hundreds or thousands of pangolins to be seized at a time.  Pangolin scales and meat are used in China and Vietnam for medicine and food.  Hunters and traders say that pangolins have already disappeared in some areas in Asia, which is leading to an increase in trade of African pangolins. 

From India to Bangkok to Macau: Narrow-headed Softshell and Black Spotted Turtles 

Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles seized in Bangkok.
            On March 12, 2014, Royal Thai Customs officers discovered 218 Black Spotted Turtles and 54 Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles in check-in luggage in Bangkok on a flight destined for Macau.  The Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle is endangered, and the Black Spotted Turtle was recently listed in Appendix 1 of CITES and can’t be traded internationally for commercial uses.

Addressing the Threats of Wildlife Trade

Legal and illegal wildlife trade threaten biodiversity, upset the balance of nature, and threaten the livelihoods of people in developing countries.  In order to address the threat of illegal wildlife trade the Convention on International Trade inEndangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) needs support from organizations that can provide them with technical and scientific advice, such as WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network), so that CITES can address the deficiencies in wildlife trade laws.Also, legislation needs to be tightened and enforced in developing countries, where funds for enforcement are lacking, and consumers should be educated so that they can make informed choices when buying wildlife-based products.

1 comment:

  1. Many countries (Costa Rica, Nepal, Namibia, et al.) have made important progress with species conservation by investing in eco-tourism and the communities in and around preserves. The idea is... if protecting species is valuable, then conservation works for people and wildlife. Bird watchers and other "nature lovers" are having a strong and positive impact.