Wildlife Trafficking and Biodiversity Loss in Southeast Asia
by jbeach on March 2, 2015 - 10:56pm
A major motivating factor for many who are involved in the wildlife trade are economic gains. But not all of those who partake in wildlife trading are doing so on the basis of an economic incentive; many are also driven by cultural factors. These could be in the forms of: food, healthcare, religion, clothing, and sport (Behrens et al. 2009). The international wildlife trade is estimated to trade billions of live animals and plants globally. This trading has assisted in the introduction of new species to new areas where they have the potential to outcompete native species for resources, alter ecosystems, damage infrastructure and destroy crops (Behrens et al. 2009). Trading has also removed native species from their natural habitat and re-located them elsewhere, this of course has ecological and biodiversity consequences.
An example of an area that has been hard hit by wildlife trade is the Associate of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Illegally traded wildlife from the tropical forests of ASEAN supplies a global market, which is estimated to be worth 10 or 20 billion (US) annually (ASEAN 2015). The illegally traded wildlife is used for: food, traditional medicine, and fashion (which consists of clothing, bags, shoes and jewelry). In Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Viet Nam, there have been huge declines in populations of high commercial value species such as: tiger, elephants, rhinos, pangolins, freshwater reptiles and tortoises, and wild orchids along with other plants, which has sparked monitoring by TRAFFIC International, an NGO who is a leader in global wildlife trade monitoring (ASEAN 2015). This illegal harvesting and trading of wildlife has a large impact on those who live in ASEAN because approximately 500 million people depend on biodiversity for food, medicine and shelter, and when wildlife are traded this results in a degraded ecosystem, and a loss or decrease of ecosystem services which support many different forms of life (ASEAN 2015). This is especially true in areas like ASEAN where many countries are still developing, and many of the people who live there still rely heavily on species that are being traded (ASEAN 2015). Most people in ASEAN depend on medicines from traditional natural sources, mostly plants, and when they become extinct or lost, so is their powerful uses for medical researches. A study by TRAFFIC in 2008 has confirmed that wildlife trade involves a complex network of 'sources and markets’ comprising of local harvesters, professional hunters, traders, retailers and wholesalers. The trading encompasses a wide spectrum of poor rural villagers, small-scale traders to large businesses, affluent city-dwellers to politically powerful entities (ASEAN 2015). Making it difficult to find and criminate those who are innovled in the illegal harvesting and selling of wildlife.
As many species are removed from their natural ecosystems more and more stress is then placed on those ecosystems to perform the same functions. This presents a challenge because each species fills its own niche, and by removing species at an alarming rate this can leave an ecosystem on the verge of collapse. Some of these species that are removed can also be keystone species, which are critical in maintaining ecosystem function. As the human population continues to rise at an unprecedented rate so do the stresses placed on ecosystem function, and by removing wildlife through trade, biodiversity is also lost and ecosystem function, as we perceive it is left in jeopardy.
Association of Southest Asian Nations [ASEAN]. 2015. Illegal Wildlife Trade: Key Driver of Biodiversity Loss. [Online.] ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, Laguna, Phillippines. Available at: http://www.aseanbiodiversity.or/index.php?option=com_content&view=aticle... enforcement&Itemid=161
Behrens, M., S. Burgiel, P. Daszak, N. Marano, L.M. Schloegel, K.F. Smith. 2009. Reducing the Risks of the Wildlife Trade. Science 324: 594-595.