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In 2014, it was declared that almost the half of all wildlife population had been eliminated in just forty years. Every year thousands of animals – lions, elephants, rhinos, turtles and other exotic species – are disappearing because of the illegal activities such as trading, poaching and smuggling. According to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom, the illegal wildlife trade is the world’s fourth profitable industry with a multi-billion income. It was estimated that if this tendency continues by the 2020 year the population of animals in the world will be decreased by two-thirds. As a result, this prognosis threatens not only the most affected areas of South-East Asia and Africa but the whole eco-system of wildlife itself. Even though the animal rights activists, non-governmental and governmental organizations, international regulations and agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), have taken measures to protect animals that are on the verge of extinction, there are still international frameworks needed to prevent this bio-degradation and save the world. This essay focuses on the causes and effects of this issue and continues to elaborate on some practical solutions in order to tackle this global crisis effectively.
Illegal wildlife trade has existed for many years and due to many reasons. Back in the past, people hunted and fished for livelihood, but the situation today is dramatically different. Poaching and killing animals for jewellery, décor, skin, fur, medicinal effects, superstitious beliefs or as a hobby are the most common reasons for these illicit activities. For instance, Southeast Asian people believe that tiger’s body parts and meat are permeated with magical abilities to make them stronger; in Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, and in South West Russian areas, people hunt and massively poach saiga antelopes for their horn. The saiga horns are considered to be an indispensable ingredient of some Chinese remedies and, since there are no saigas in China, trafficking of their horn has become a very profitable object of export. (Programme, 2017).Moreover, while in China and Vietnam it is believed that horn of rhinos can treat cancer, and people are ready to pay $65.000 per kilogram, in Europe people spend millions of dollars buying luxury accessories made from ivory of elephants and hippopotamus (Henn, 2014). This phenomenon mostly occurs in areas named as “wildlife trade hotspots”, such as the countries of Southeast Asia, East and South Africa, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Mexico and many others (Fund, 2018). These territories are known for their rich biodiversity, where people used to hunt, and consume wildlife, which is rooted in their cultures. In addition, a high level of poverty in rural areas makes local people depend on the commerce of wildlife species (Martyr, n.d.). This is one of the most profitable illegal industries with an estimated annual revenue of $10 to $20 billion dollars (Earth, 2017).
Every year 35,000-50,000 elephants are being poached for ivory, more than 5000 tigers are kept as pets, about 28,300 freshwater turtles are being traded every day, and according to the National Geographic, the last white male rhino died in 2018, by leaving only two female rhinos in existence (Good, 2014). While people can be concerned about the extinction of endangered animals and losing biodiversity most of them underestimate the importance of natural imbalance in ecosystems. It is undeniable fact that the extinction of one species in the food chain brings adverse outcomes to the whole environment (Dowd, 2018). According to a research by the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP), an ecological impact of illegal trafficking “results in a long-term deterioration of ecosystem functions and services of both global and local importance” such as deforestation, desertification and extinction of target species (Programme, 2017). Another example of the negative consequences of wildlife illegitimate trade is spreading diseases. According to D.Smith (2006), about 8000 people were infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China between 2003 and 2004 with more than 286 people dead.
This devastating dilemma raised awareness across the world capturing the attention of governments and organizations not only the affected areas of Africa and Asia but the whole world. Consequently, international conservation organizations, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, academic and private sectors have come together to address this issue and establish effective law enforcement, sanctions and regulations. The most prominent example of this international cooperation, based on CITES, 2017 is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between countries where 183 representatives adopted approximately “400 resolutions and decisions at the recent 17th CITES’ meeting in Geneva, 2017.” However, these regulations and sanctions alone could be inadequate to encounter with one of the most profitable illegal markets in the world and have resulted in negative outcomes such as falsification of documents, corruption at national and local levels and smuggling. Moreover, this method works by a principal from “top to down”, and most implications adopted by the governments are not usually fully realized, sufficiently sponsored, or does not achieve the initial plan (Programme, 2017).
Meanwhile, private non-governmental and conservation organizations such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Wildlife Trade Monitoring program (TRAFFIC), the Flora & Fauna International (FFI) and others work on independent programs (Henn, These 8 Organizations Refuse to Let the Illegal Wildlife Trade Win, 2015). For instance, according to Martyr (n.d.), the FFI supports “rangers and independent enforcement teams” who closely work with wildlife, while the TRAFFIC explores, evaluate and control wildlife trade progression, and provide with the necessary information for other NGOs, governments and independent organizations (TRAFFIC, 2018). These organizations should be financially supported by governments as they do not create and impose sanctions and actions toward to protect the environment but also directly work with wildlife flora and fauna by conducting field expeditions and trips where multiple efficient solutions take place.
As the main figures in this industry of illegal trade of animals are human beings, could be either rich people who are the consumers or underprivileged people who is the dealers, the fundamental fact is that both sides do not fully understand that everyone in this market by selling and purchasing animals as pets or jewelry brings adverse negative outcomes to the global environment (Preventing Poaching through Community Education, 2017). Therefore, governmental and non-governmental organizations such as TRAFFIC or CITES place special emphasis on the needs of educating and raising awareness among the wider audience. For instance, FFI, as this is the conservation organization which work closely with nature, organized an integrated course program for children of Nicaragua about the importance of turtles of the Pacific Ocean and taught them how to save these endangered species (International, 2014). Moreover, courtesy to the modern network and social media such as Instagram and Facebook, which provides a tremendous opportunity to widely and fast spread information, there are more educated and knowledgeable young generation than ever before (Benefits of the internet and social media). It is very important to change the perceptions of poor locals of Africa, for example, to make a profit from developing tourism industry such as safari rather than killing and illegally selling the wildlife animals (Rosie Cooney, 2016, p. 3). However, it is not easy to realize this goal as the cost of horns of elephant and rhino is significantly expensive, and revenue from this illegal trade is much more profitable (Dilys Roe, 2016, p. 4).
Finally, the illegal wildlife trade is an international paradox. Therefore, the importance of strengthening the cross-border regulations, sanctions and cooperation play the pivotal role to explicitly tackle this problem. Furthermore, the illegal trade usually engages organized criminals and involves illegitimate actions such as fraud, corruption, document falsification, smuggling and other illicit acts (Bank, 2018, p. 1). Consequently, international enforcement authorities such as patrols, guards and policies were established by governments of the cooperated countries. One of the best examples of these authorities is the International Criminal Police Organization’s (INTERPOL) Environmental Security program (ENS) and Wildlife Crime Working Group (WCWG). It is reported that “900 suspects and 1300 seizures of illicit products worth an estimated USD 5.1 million” were identified by the cooperation of the Interpol and the CITES in January and February 2017. Furthermore, among many conducted operations and investigations, it is worth noting that Interpol supported Zimbabwe forces to arrest an international criminal – Dumisani Moyo – a Zimbabwe citizen who was a criminal dealer of ivory and firearms (Interpol).
The scale and complexity of an issue of illegal trafficking of animal results in serious environmental disasters such as animal extinction, biodiversity degradation, the spread of diseases, creating conditions for flourishing transnational criminality and other negative consequences. On the other hand, myriad conservation projects, volunteering programs, international summits and cooperation were created in order to tackle this problem and protect endangered animals and the whole ecosystem itself. It is human being’s responsibility to save the planet and work together on the negative outcomes of anthropogenic effects in order to raise children in safe and full of natural resources world.
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