The black market wildlife trade is one of the largest illegal industries in the world. The exact value is almost impossible to estimate due to its illicit nature and unstable market. Some estimates, however, do go into the billions of US dollars annually. As stated in the United Nations World Wildlife Crime Report of 2016, "a US$10 illegally harvested snakeskin can be transformed into a US$10,000 designer handbag". The value of rhino horn is estimated to be more than US$65,000 US Dollars per kilogram once in the eastern market, while the demand and price for skins and bones of big cats are also increasing substantially. These examples are but few of thousands. This piece will discuss the primary causes and concerns of this illicit trade.
There is a multitude of reasons as to why this industry is of the scale that it is. Some who partake illegally are simply those who rely on the environment for their basic sustenance and resource requirements not provided to them by their society or government in mostly rural areas. These are understandable, lesser offences, while those based on greed, gluttony and entertainment horrifies when exposed. Another major factor to take into account is the explosive population growth, increased resource demand and major development globally. Also, the lack of education on sustainability and medicine provides more grounds for ignorant consumerism. Let us take a look at what the primary causes of this environmental destruction are. These are separated into subsistence and industry.
The subsistence use of the environment, as mentioned above, is an understandable occurrence. The lack of basic resources and support cause communities to rely on the environment for their basic needs. Such as food, fuel, furniture, utensils, building material, medicine, etc. This does, however, leave a substantial scar on the wilderness. For example.
Wildlife as a source of food is unsustainably harvested as more strain is placed on wildlife by growing demand for food. According to TRAFFIC, more than 20% of protein consumed in over 60 developing countries are harvested from the wild.
Wood remains a commonly used commodity for everyday use. From simple firewood to its uses for mundane, artistic and spiritual items to building material. This leads to grave habitat loss.
Both plants and animals, in some cases endangered, are used in medicine, magick and traditional ceremony. Multiple species face possible extinction because of this use.
Due to the ever-expanding human population in lesser developed countries, this form of environmental destruction is on the rise. For the most part, this is driven by a simple lack of basic needs, combined with traditional ways of living. Although the subsistence and tradition based exploitation of wildlife is harmful, it accounts for only a fraction of the global trade value. The main threat remains the illegal global industry.
The industrial or organised illegal wildlife market is massive. This encompasses a wide range of products and uses. From food delicacies, traditional medicine, cultural practices, decor, oddities, as pets or for sport. Unfortunately, the demand for this is fueled by ignorance, cruelty and greed, rather than the need for subsistence. This global trade is extensive, organised and rewards the black market system and cartels. Where the money ends up of is great importance. In general, the money ends up in the hands of criminal organisations which further exacerbates crime and instability wherever this global market reaches. Many government officials of higher and lower rank the world over are either corrupted or disposed of to ensure the illegal trade continues. In other cases, the money ends up in the hands of terrorist organisations throughout the third world, which funds further conflict and atrocities globally. This is especially true for the current ivory and rhino horn trade of Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Following are examples of reasons why this illicit trade is of this scale.
Medicinal and spiritual traditions of countries without adequate modern healthcare or education is a major driving force for the poaching of endangered wildlife. For example, rhino horn, pangolin scales, sun bear gallbladder, lion bones... and the list just goes on. None of these examples just listed have any medicinal value at all. The scales of a pangolin and compressed hairs of rhino horn are constructs of keratin, the same building blocks as our hair and nails, which is undigestable by the human body. Scientific inquiry is clear on the fact that there is no medicinal value, however, the demand continues to grow.
Religious or traditional belief systems also play a major role in the endangerment of our critical species. The medicinal uses mentioned above are examples of mislead and unillumed traditions with no scientific basis. This market for spiritual uses of endangered wildlife is found in most of the third world. In Africa for example, the use of vulture body parts is commonplace. In one spiritual tradition, dried vulture brain is smoked for the act of divination. This is inexcusable, as vulture species globally are threatened with extinction through hunting and mass poisoning. Ivory too falls into this category as a tradition based art form. Unfortunately, beliefs and scientific fact cannot be reconciled, and as long as ignorance prevails, wildlife will not.
Another major contributor to the illegal wildlife trade is for the pet or exotic collector industries. This trade is also estimated to have a value reaching into the billions of US$. Those animals that are not bred within the confines of this illegal business are simply taken from the environment and distributed worldwide. A massive variety of animals species, such as reptiles, big cats, birds, fish and more fall victim to this crime. Even rare and exotic plant species are poached for the collector market. Most of these animals make for terrible pets that end up discarded at rescue centres or the foreign wilds. The demand for this wildlife stems from ignorance of its effect on global wildlife populations and understanding of the animal's nature.
In terms of food, exotic and rare animals are frequently poached and eaten as delicacies. This phenomenon is not merely reserved for the developing world but can be seen in many first world countries too, where legitimate restaurants make special reservations and arrangements for clientele who wish to partake in a more taboo dining experience. Of course, the illegal nature of this food market bolsters the prices of the end dish. This provides the monetary incentive to serve dishes of endangered fish, reptiles, mammals and birds. This is based on arrogance and cruelty since all participants know of its illegal and environmental nature, though still choose to participate.
More examples can be listed as to what continually feeds this black market, such as animal blood sports, decor products, charms, high demand for rare wood, etc. However, I implore all those who have a heart for nature to explore these things further and see what you can do to help.
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