Illegal Wildlife Trade (Africa) and Organized Crime
by emill8 on March 2, 2015 - 2:33pm
The illegal trade of live animals or parts and plants has been a problem for centuries. Not all wildlife trade is illegal though; it’s only when the harvesting escalates into a crisis and becomes unsustainable and often pushes endangered species to extinction. However, it hasn’t been until recently that there has been an unsurpassed spike in the unlawful trade, especially with concern to ivory, rhino horn, and tiger products.
The wildlife trade is nothing to take lightly. Skillful international crime syndicates control this trade and are often involved in other illegal dealings such as with drugs and firearms.
“The illicit trade in endangered animals has grown to the fourth-largest kind of illegal trade worldwide, sparking concern about links to militants and organized crime in developing nations. We can't just see this as an environmental problem anymore, when it has grown into a criminal and security one,” says Beth Allgood from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Vergano, 2013).
IFAW poster details costs of illegal wildlife trade. (Photo: IFAW)
Unfortunately, this is what has lead me to strongly believe that the only “wake up call” we humans have had and took action upon has been due to the threat to our global security and these dangerous crime networks…not due to the devastating repercussions of losing endangered animals and affecting the overall biodiversity. Oh humanity….well, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this either. Anyways, I digress…
Before I get ahead of myself though, I want to quickly outline what the major cause of the illegal wildlife trade is, and essentially what it means for our endangered wildlife populations and therefore, us as humans.
As the human population continues to grow exponentially, so does the demand for luxurious goods derived from our environment. Those living such wealthy lifestyles expect to have a wide variety of goods from exquisite food and materials for furnishing, to animal products for decoration or fashion, oblivious to the impact their demand has on the environment and wildlife populations. On the other hand, the poorer population also have no appreciation for the value of such goods, and see wildlife as a tool for trading and surviving (World Wildlife Foundation, 2015).
Even though the illegal wildlife trade involves thousands of species, those that have been brought to the attention of the public have been those species that have really taken a beating to their populations in such a small period of time; elephants, rhinos and tigers. Such products, mainly in Asia, are at such a high demand that the value continues to skyrocket. In Vietnam especially, the demand is sadly based on the myth that if different methods of consuming rhino horn is consumed, that is had the power to cure many ailments, such as cancer and erectile dysfunction. This has pushed poaching in South Africa, where over 85% of the world’s rhinos live, over the edge, threatening their existence; rhino poaching in South Africa increased a staggering 7,700% just in 6 years from 2007 to 2013 (World Wildlife Fund, 2015) from 13 to 1,004 rhinos (Stop Rhino Poaching, 2015). The price of rhino horn is now worth double the price of gold, being sold for up to $100,000 for every 2.2 pounds of horn (South Africa Considers Viability of Legal Rhino Horn Trade, 2015).
Since living in South Africa along the Kruger National Park and working first-hand with rhinos and being involved with their protection and monitoring, my passion for this topic has grown. Sadly enough, as quoted previously, this is not just an issue concerning the environment anymore, but it now encompasses the global security and criminal rings now too; nothing to be taken lightly. I will focus on rhino and elephant poaching in Africa and will try to dabble in every level of this issue from conservation and the front-line efforts to protect them and how it’s linked to global crime rings.
South Africa Considers Viability of Legal Rhino Horn Trade, U.S. Edition. [Online.] The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/10/south-africa-considers-viability-of-legal-rhino-horn-trade.
Stop Rhino Poaching. 2015. Rhino Poaching & Population Statistics. [Online.] Department of Environmental Affairs. Available at: on http://www.stoprhinopoaching.com/.
Vergano, Dan. 2013. Illegal Wildlife Trade Threatens International Security. [Online.] USA Today. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/24/elephant-rhino-security/2447233/.
World Wildlife Foundation. 2015. Threats of Illegal Wildlife Trade. [Online.] Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade.