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Why wildlife crime is a risk to humanity

The welfare of animals like the magnificent Bengal tiger is inextricably linked to the sustainability of civilisation (Photo: Moni Sertel CC-BY-SA 2.0)
The welfare of animals like the magnificent Bengal tiger is inextricably linked to the sustainability of civilisation (Photo: Moni Sertel CC-BY-SA 2.0)

On World Wildlife Day, guest blogger Isabelle turns her focus to animals and the natural world – and why the welfare of wildlife has consequences for all of us, everywhere.

We campaign for certain groups like women, children, and ethnic minorities, but there’s another group that desperately needs our help. These are beings that have no voice to defend themselves―simply because they’re incapable of communicating in a human language. The 3rd of March is World Wildlife Day, and it comes at a critical time. While we focus on issues concerning health, corruption, and the economy, we should not forget about the escalating injustice against animals, particularly wildlife.

A threat to sustainability

This year’s World Wildlife Day focuses on the severity of wildlife crime. WWF states that after habitat destruction, illegal wildlife trade is the second-biggest threat to the animal species. In his message for 2015, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, notes that crimes against wildlife are a threat to our sustainable future:

“Illegal trade in wildlife has become a sophisticated transnational form of crime, comparable to other pernicious examples, such as trafficking of drugs, humans, counterfeit items and oil. It is driven by rising demand, and is often facilitated by corruption and weak governance. There is strong evidence of the increased involvement of organised crime networks and non-State armed groups.

Illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law and threatens national security; it degrades ecosystems and is a major obstacle to the efforts of rural communities and indigenous peoples striving to sustainably manage their natural resources. Combatting this crime is not only essential for conservation efforts and sustainable development, it will contribute to achieving peace and security in troubled regions where conflicts are fuelled by these illegal activities.”

An tusk tower made up of poached ivory
Wildlife crimes such as the illegal trading of elephant tusks occur too frequently to keep a track on, and are escalating dramatically (Photo: Ivy Allen, USFWS)

Animals’ problems are our problems

We have a one-way relationship with wildlife: we use many animals for food, medicine, scientific research, innovation (like biomimicry), and even entertainment. So we keep taking and taking―often in the cruellest manner―but never give back. This sort of attitude can be blamed for the extinction and endangerment of several species.

Apart from the fact that each being has a right to exist in peace on this planet, the safety of wild animals also has a direct impact on people’s lives. Wildlife crime goes hand in hand with environmental destruction; if we want to promote biodiversity and the stability of ecosystems, we need to protect the animals that maintain the balance. Furthermore, with the current population statistics and poaching rates of endangered species, there’s a very real possibility that future generations may never see the likes of tigers, rhinos, or elephants in the wild.

Additionally, many people directly suffer as a result of wildlife crimes. For example, international crime syndicates are currently exploiting poor people in rural areas of Mozambique and South Africa: they take advantage of their desperate situations and use them to hunt and poach rhinos, to track the activities of wildlife law enforcement, etc. This puts these vulnerable groups in a very dangerous predicament, as they have to resort to illegal and life-threatening activities to support themselves and their families.

Protecting animals from ourselves

People tend to forget that this planet doesn’t exclusively belong to us. That attitude has led to the severe depletion of many species and their homes. So we have a moral responsibility to safeguard the creatures we condemned.

Ban Ki-moon states that a number of efforts need to take place to address wildlife crime. We have to gain the support of societies involved in the production and consumption of wildlife products, which are used for things like furniture, cosmetics, and clothing. Individuals and businesses can refuse to buy or auction illegal animal parts, and ensure that products from oceans and forests have been legally obtained and sustainably sourced.

For issues related to social justice and human rights, I would usually suggest that the most fundamental steps to take are raising awareness and educating people about the problems. Although these are also important for wildlife rights, I believe there’s something more crucial: the key is for communities to put pressure on authorities and governments to strengthen wildlife protections laws; enforce stricter control on activities such as trophy hunting and stockpiles of animal body parts; and invest in conserving the habitats of threatened species.

Defending the defenceless

There are countless wildlife crimes taking place each day: the illicit trade of tiger skins, elephant tusks, and rhino horns are just a few evident examples. The problem seems too large and too complex to get a grip on. That’s where the difficulty lies, and that’s also what causes apathy―making people give up on what they think they’re “powerless” to control.

Yet the fact is that citizens do have the influence to make a positive difference to wildlife populations. The very recent announcement of a major milestone proves this point. The giant panda―a symbol of wildlife conservation―is an endangered species due to habitat loss, poaching, and low birth rates. Due to this status, conservation efforts increased and so did the media attention on the animal. Now years of perseverance have paid off: the Fourth National Giant Panda Survey (organised by China’s State Forestry Administration and supported by WWF) has shown that wild panda numbers have increased by nearly 17% over the past decade. And this is just one victory.

There’s a quote widely attributed to Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I’d extend this to every individual, community, and organisation. The protection of wildlife is a never-ending commitment, and this is why the significance of World Wildlife Day should be applied to our everyday activities and efforts. Animals have been around long before humans existed, but without our continuous respect and dedication, these species will not be able to prosper in peace. And neither will we.

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