To better understand the international wildlife trade in live animals and animal products, focus will be placed on one or more major categories of the trade. The major categories are: whaling, fur, reptile skins, Traditional Medicine products, fisheries, wild pets (including cage birds, lizards, turtles, snakes and frogs). Selection by a student of a species, group of species or general subject under one of these categories allows an overview that can be thorough and involve much research, or result in a short report. A classroom project could involve a subject such as Traditional Medicine, in which groups of students would select individual species or groups of species, such as rhinos (killed for their horns), Tigers (killed for every part of their bodies), seahorses, snakes, turtles, monkeys and other primates and sharks. The reports would be presented together.
Trade in live animals, plants and the products made from them has caused extinctions and has pushed many to the edge of extinction. At least 15 percent of highly threatened mammals and birds have declined as a result of trade, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (see Hilton-Taylor 2000). Internationally, billions of dollars are earned legally and illegally, and each year, more species become exploited. The trade is second only to the international drug trade in overall profits, worth an estimated $3 billion a year in protected live animals and animal products. As soon as one species becomes rare from exploitation and receives protection, the trade switches to a similar one, pushing it into threatened status. Much of this trade is for luxury products or to supply collectors and the wealthy who wish to own rare birds and other wildlife; wear the furs of endangered species, such as Snow Leopards or Cheetahs; purchase purses or clothes made from rare snakes or other reptiles; or consume luxury foods, such as endangered fish, whale and even Tiger meat. The wool of the Tibetan Antelope, the Chiru, ivory from elephants, the caviar of the endangered Beluga Sturgeon, rhinoceros horn and live Spix's Macaws, captured for collectors of rare animals, are worth far more than gold. The Traditional Medicine trade deals in a wide variety of animal products and plants and is a major factor pushing the Tiger, rhinoceros, seahorses and a host of other species toward extinction. For the majority of species exploited for this trade, substitutes exist or the products are not effective remedies. Ecological systems worldwide are being disrupted with the removal of predators and other keystone species, causing a loss of biodiversity.
This trade is taking place in spite of the landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), enacted in the 1970s and now ratified by a majority of the countries in the world. It places animals at greatest risk of extinction on Appendix I, which prohibits commercial trade, and threatened species on Appendix II, which limits or controls trade on a species-by-species basis. CITES bans trade in species listed on either Appendix if the trade will be detrimental to the species' wild populations. In practice, many species that are threatened with extinction and listed on CITES Appendices are traded illegally or in countries which lack national legislation restricting wildlife trade. Although endangered spotted cat fur coats are no longer seen in New York City clothing stores, the fur trade continues to use the skins of rare cats and other wildlife, which are openly sold in many countries around the world. Enforcement funding is inadequate in the majority of countries, even the United States, where only 10 percent of shipments are inspected. Moreover, certain products, such as powdered rhino horn or Tiger bones, can be easily secreted in packaging while in transit. CITES has been an important deterrent to trade in endangered species, however, providing many threatened animals and plants with needed protection. Also, a growing number of countries have strict legislation prohibiting trade in protected species, including exports.
The methods used to capture and kill animals for the wildlife trade are often cruel in the extreme. Steel-jaw leghold traps and wire neck snares that cause great pain and injury produce pelts for the fur and bushmeat trades. Whales die from exploding harpoons thrust into their heads and bodies. Frightened live animals are crowded into cramped, dirty cages and transported to pet shops and laboratories, suffering high mortality along the way. Man's inhumanity to animals reaches an extreme in the wild animal trade.
o Read the Trade chapter in this book and other sources referenced.
o Select a subject among the following wildlife and plant trades for further
- fur trade
- whaling and sale of whale meat
- sea turtles--trade in eggs, meat, shell and stuffed curios
- fine wools--Shahtoosh from Tibetan Antelope and Vicuña
- bushmeat from endangered gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, turtles
and other wildlife of Africa and Southeast Asia
- fisheries products--sharks for their fins and meat and caviar,
- reptile products for luggage, handbags and other luxury goods
- wild bird pets
- reptile pets, such as lizards, snakes and turtles
- fish for aquariums
- butterflies for collectors
- plants, such as orchids and cacti, for collectors
After reading about these trades in this book and other sources, write a
report that discusses the following aspects:
- How many animals or plants are estimated taken per year for this
- What species are they? What is their status in the wild?
- Where are the animals and animal products sold? Are they killed or
collected in one country where they are protected and then sold in
- What controls exist to protect threatened and endangered species
traded? Are they listed on CITES or the US Endangered Species List?
Are they protected in their country of origin with high penalties
for illegal take or killing, or are the penalties so low that there
is an incentive to capture the species illegally? In India, for
example, wildlife smugglers and killers of Tigers and other protected
wildlife almost never receive jail sentences or large fines, while in
China, the death penalty can result from killing a Giant Panda.
- What profits can be earned from sale of these animals or animal
products? Find out the prices of expensive goods, such as Beluga or
other Russian caviar, Shahtoosh and other items.
- What are the potential ecological effects of the disappearance of
these animals? African and Asian Elephants are keystone species,
distributing tree seeds, creating water holes and forest openings
that benefit their ecosystems. Their disappearance from many areas
has already had ecological effects. Find other examples, such as
Tigers, which are at the top of their food chain; monkeys and other
primates who pollinate flowers or distribute seeds; birds caught for
zoos and collectors, such as hornbills, who distribute fig seeds;
or animals that are important food items for wildlife.
o Traditional Medicine trade--a group project. Based on the
information in the Trade chapter and the references below, divide the
class into groups and have each group select from the various species
used in this trade, such as Tigers and other wild cats, rhinoceros,
monkeys, seahorses, musk and other types of deer, snakes, pangolins,
bears of all species and rare plants. The information for each group to
gather is the following:
- What is the extent of this trade? Are animals and plants being
collected throughout the world to supply the trade?
- What percentage is sold in China, other parts of Asia or in
Asian pharmacies in other parts of the world?
- What prices are obtained for these animals at the level of the
captor, the local markets, exporter, importer and retail sales?
What effect is this having on the species? Will it become extinct
if the trade continues at its present level?
- Is the trade legal in the animal's country of origin? Is the
species listed on CITES or banned from importation or exportation?
Is the species openly sold in some markets? Where and when?
- Are there education programs that are trying to stop the killing,
marketing and purchase of these species or the over-harvesting of
rare plants? What governments or organizations are trying to help
these species through protection of habitat, bans on commerce or
enactment of strong legislation to protect them?
o Enforcement of existing legislation is crucial to protecting threatened and
endangered animals and plants. What state and federal laws ban the sale,
killing and purchase of endangered species? How is evidence gathered for
wildlife crime cases? How does CITES work?
o Visit stores that sell animal products and live animals.
- Fur and department stores with furs: List the kinds of animals used to
make the garments being sold. It is required by US law that the species of
animal and country of origin be listed on the label. List the ranched
animals, such as mink and chinchilla, and wild-trapped ones, such as lynx,
beaver and raccoon. Write down the number of coats and other garments of
each type of animal, the date, the store and its address. Neither
ranched nor wild animals are humanely treated prior to their deaths. Learn
about the methods of killing of wild animals (types of traps, number of
animals killed per country and US state) and the numbers and species of
animals farmed. Contact the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society
of the United States and PETA for films that show the cruelty of trapping.
Farmed animals are kept in tiny cages, where they become neurotic, and
killing methods are unregulated.
- Visit department and shoe stores to determine whether reptile products
are being sold. This trade kills millions of animals and threatens many
species, as well as causing rats and other rodents they prey on to increase
to pest proportions when too many snakes and other reptile predators are
killed. List the species from which the item is made, if possible. Laws
regarding labeling of reptile products are less strict than those regarding
furs, and some do not list the species. If possible, determine if any
endangered species are sold and how many items are being sold in your area.
- Visit pet stores to inventory reptile pets, such as iguanas, lizards,
snakes and turtles. Find out how many are wild-caught, what species and
whether threatened. Also visit pet stores to inventory their cage birds.
Ask if the birds were taken from the wild or are captive-bred. In the
United States, wild-caught parrot imports are allowed only for a few
breeders, and parrots in pet stores should be captive-bred. Ask if the
birds were bred in captivity. Many finches and other birds are also banned
from importation. Obtain a copy of the Wild Bird Conservation Act and see
if any of the species listed as “banned” are being sold. If so, tell the
store owner and report this to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Law
Enforcement Division. Contact the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
for films that show the capture of wild birds in Senegal and Argentina and
the cruelty involved in the cage bird trade. If any pet store is selling
primates, find out the species. It may be endangered, as in the case of a
Diana Monkey sold in a Long Island pet store a few years ago. Primates do
not make good pets and should not be purchased. Many organizations receive
unwanted primate pets to care for, after they have bitten their owners.
Ask your local pet store to avoid sale of live animals. This is a trend in
many pet stores that now sell only pet food, leashes, books and other non-
living items. Patronize such stores. Contact your local humane society to
learn of rejected wild pets and the difficulty in finding homes for them
and recount these examples in a letter to your local newspaper, asking
people not to buy wild-caught animals of any type.
o Attitudes are crucial to the protection of native wildlife by the people
living within their habitat. Killing of animals for food and sale as pets
has increased in recent years as international trade provides
worldwide markets. It has become all the more important for wildlife to
be valued and protected by people living in their range. Effective
education is a key. A program in Saint Lucia, an island in the West
Indies, is run by Paul Butler, working for the organization RARE. He
has taught pride and appreciation of native wildlife and convinced the
people living on the island to protect their native parrot, a species in
high demand among collectors and numbering only a few hundred in the wild,
as well as their forests and other wildlife (see reference below). The
smuggling of the St. Lucia Parrot has virtually stopped as a result, and
its forest is now protected as the habitat for this national bird. In
the rainforests of the Congo, a Gorilla family being studied by a
primatologist was filmed. In order to acquaint local people with these
animals, the film was shown to them. They had considered these
apes to be fierce, dangerous animals, worthy of being killed for the
bushmeat market. When they saw the tender affection among family
members and the playfulness of the young Gorillas, they were pleased and
surprised, saying "They are like us!" They had the forest declared a
protected reserve and now teach their children to protect these Gorillas.
(This was filmed by Moses Films and shown on National Geographic Explorer,
entitled "Living with Gorillas" in 2000.) Write a report about the
need for similar programs and find out about others being conducted to
educate people about their wildlife. Think of species that would benefit
from such programs, and write a short summary of an education program you
think would be effective for an individual species or group of species.
For example, turtles are being heavily exploited for meat and the pet
trade throughout the world, endangering many species. If they were
better appreciated in their native lands, especially Southeast Asia,
where tradition and folklore hold them in high esteem, their future
might be brighter. Design a poster and educational brochure about Asian
turtles that could be distributed in Viet Nam, Laos, China and other
countries where turtles are being captured in enormous numbers.
o While great profits can be derived from the sale of wildlife, even greater
ones can come from tourism. Elephants killed for their ivory bring the
hunter a one-time profit of several thousand dollars, but tourism centered
around elephants can benefit local people throughout the long life of the
elephant, a life of some 60 years, totaling $100,000 or more. The capture
of rare parrots, likewise, is far less profitable than ecotourism, which is
worth 100 times or more the value of their sale in the pet trade. Whale
meat is far less valuable than live whales that are whale watched. Whale
watching now earns $1 billion per year worldwide from the 9 million people
who take part in excursions in almost 90 countries, according to the
International Fund for Animal Welfare. Think of other examples of non-
lethal or non-invasive programs that benefit wildlife and ones that might
be started to provide local people with income without harming wildlife.
Another form of non-lethal business concerning wildlife involves the
placement of videocameras in wild habitats, connected with the Internet.
Internet users pay a small fee to see live views of the animal or scene,
or to access the website for more films and information. South Africa's
national parks are profiting from such a system, and the potential is
great for other such videocamera placements. Videocameras can be solar-
powered, as engineered by Daniel Zatz in Alaska, who has placed these
cameras near bear feeding areas, with the images sent to a museum in
Washington state (seemorebears.com). They also have the advantage of
not injuring or invading the habitat of shy species which might be
disturbed by large numbers of tourists. Think of species that might
benefit from videocameras in their habitats. Examples might be wild
parrots at their nests or Tigers filmed in national parks along trails.
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