Trade in Wildlife
Trade in Wildlife

Trade in animals is a worldwide industry that is large and lucrative industry worldwide. According to TRAFFIC, an international monitor of wildlife trade created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and World Conservation Union in 1976, the legitimate, international, wildlife industry has an estimated worth of US $300 billion and involves hundreds of millions of individual animal specimens (Engler and Parry, 2007).

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), approximately 95 percent of the wildlife imported into the United States is cleared on paperwork alone, since there are not enough inspectors to monitor the volume that clears through the ports of entry.

However, a significant portion of trade in wildlife is illegal. Rare and endangered animals and plants are often transferred from wild habitats in poor countries to buyers in rich countries by well-organized smuggling rings for use as medicines, furs, food, pets, ornaments, and collectors’ items.

Annually, illegal international wildlife trafficking is estimated to bring in billions of dollars. The nature of the wildlife trade makes it difficult to estimate the exact annual revenue, but it is considered second-largest cross-border criminal activity next to illegal drug trafficking. Annual illegal trade in caviar is estimated at US $244 million, bringing in many times more than legal caviar commerce (Engler and Parry, 2007). Illegal trafficking and commercialization of wildlife is considered by agents of USFWS as “[o]ne of the fastest ways to cause a species to go extinct” (Traxler, 2009).

A report by Brazil’s National Network Against the Trafficking of Wild Animals (RENCTAS) found that 38 million animals are stolen from Brazilian forests every year. Even though an overwhelming 90 percent die in the process of being caught or during transportation, Brazil still maintains a five to 15 percent share of the illegal wildlife trade market. In the United States, for example, animal traders can fetch $20,000 for a Brazilian jaguar skin and $60,000 for a rare Lear’s Macaw parrot (Renctas, 2001).

There are signs that the business is only growing. In 2009, Kenya reported its worst year on record for animal poaching—249 elephants were killed, compared to 147 in 2008 and 47 in 2007. In April 2011, Tthe Thai Customs Office seized 247 tusks, worth an estimated $3.1 million, which arrived from the Mombasa region in Kenya (McConnell 2011). In 2012 359 tusks were seized in one bust alone. This surge in illegal activity has been echoed throughout Africa.

According to a Newsweek article, militia members and organized crime groups in Chad and Sudan are funding their operations by poaching endangered species to trade for weapons or money (Begley, 2008). The RENCTAS report, mentioned above, also linked illegal wildlife trafficking to crime syndicates and other illegal activities (Renctas, 2001). The increased ease of transporting and selling these animals is just another way that globalization is consequential in the environment.

Crime syndicates have become more dispersed, so they can easily move merchandise in a clandestine manner. These groups have connections with other global crime rings, which facilitates the linking of wildlife trafficking to drug and arms trafficking.The international community responded to the need to regulate trade in wildlife by establishing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1973.

More than 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are currently protected by CITES so that international trade in wildlife does not imperil their survival. More than 175 countries are now parties to CITES. Species covered by CITES are safeguarded under an international system of trade controls based on their placement in one of two protected categories.

Appendix I of CITES contains a list of the world’s most endangered speciesapes, leopards, tigers, sea turtles, and otherswhich are near extinction and are not likely to survive if used in trade. For this Appendix I group, no trade permits are issued by CITES countries, barring exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II lists species at serious risk of becoming endangered if involved in international trade. This group includes three-toed sloths, crocodiles, frogs, cobras, and many others. International trade of an Appendix II species requires a permit issued by the government of the exporting country. In addition, countries are allowed to exceed the levels of protection required by CITES, to the point of banning wildlife trade completely for Appendix II species.

Appendix III takes account of species that are protected in at least one country, which has requested other CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade of said species. Changes to Appendix III follow a separate procedure from changes to Appendix I and Appendix II, as each individual party is at liberty to make unilateral adjustments to it.

CITES and TRAFFIC encompass only international trade in wildlife, however. Domestic trade must be regulated at the national level. In the United States, such regulation takes the form of the robust Endangered Species Act, but other countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and India are faulted by environmental groups for weak internal regulation.

For instance, according to the International Primate Protection League, in Indonesia, the law states that trade or possession of endangered species is punishable by up to five years in prison or a $10,000 fine, yet many government officials, military leaders, and celebrities own endangered animals as pets.

Some environmentalists advocate going further than CITES, therefore, and establishing international controls for protection of animals within countries. Nations have resisted such an idea, however, because of the perceived invasion of their sovereignty such controls would represent.

CITES may actually be doing more damage than protection. In fall 2008, CITES members held an auction for ivory seized in four African countries. The money from the auction, around $1.3 million, was distributed to elephant conservation projects in these countries (Mukimbira, 2008). Conservationists argued that the sale of this ivory actually drove up the demand for ivory in several Asian countries. (Leakey, 2008). Many fear the auction directly correlates with increased illegal poaching occurring in the last several months.

It seems clear from the facts and reports, especially those given from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, that the increased demand from the auction raised the supply of illegal ivory. In 2011 an estimated 25,000 elephants were poached, the highest amount in a decade (CITES, 2012). The new demand comes mostly from Asian markets in China, Taiwan, and Japan where ivory is still used in many traditional medicines.

Trade in wildlife has caused a counter-reaction by animal rights groups that itself displays some interesting features of environmental consciousness in a globalized international society. Environmental activists have mounted prominent public efforts to protect various species from commercial exploitation, such as the “fur is murder,” “save the dolphins,” and “save the whales” campaigns in order to change demand for goods derived from wildlife.

The “fur is murder” movement incites public outrage against the killing of animals for their skins by boycotting department stores and luxury goods retailers that sell fur. Activists spray-paint fur products, place stickers on car bumpers and stop signs, stage public rallies, and promote alternative clothing fashions. The “save the dolphins” campaign urges consumers to purchase only tuna cans that are labeled as “dolphin-safe,” because some methods of tuna fishing have the side effect of killing dolphins (as detailed earlier). Greenpeace has led the “save the whales” campaign since 1975, raising public awareness about threats to whales, pushing for international whaling restrictions, and actively obstructing whaling ships.

In recent years, it has become a trend for Hollywood celebrities to endorse animal rights groups, such as the wildly popular PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Celebrity supporters include Sir Paul McCartney, Dennis Rodman, and Paris Hilton. While often criticized as a publicity stunt, celebrity endorsement has undeniably put the spotlight on animal rights protection, while reaching a vast audience across the globe. The 2010 Academy Award Winner for best documentary, The Cove, also served as a means to increase awareness on animal rights, by shedding the light on the slaughter of dolphins and porpoises in Japan.

These campaigns are perhaps most notable not because they are effective responses to a major problem, but because of their statements about political pressures and attitudes in a globalized society. The ability of environmentalists to organize activists across the world—particularly using the Internet to spread their message—and to influence policy on a national and international level is, in itself, a feature of globalization.

This ability has affected policy in important ways, with, for example, the implementation of “dolphin-friendly” labels on cans of processed tuna in the United States. Illustrative of these effects, the protection of sea turtles mobilized thousands of protesters at the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999 and the “save the whales” movement drew widespread international support and helped lead to a ban on commercial whaling.

Because such campaigns address sensitive lifestyle issues, however, they have run into opposition. For instance, as described in the “Wildlife Protection and Cultural Right” section, whaling is a tradition in places such as Japan and Norway and among some Eskimos tribes in the United States, leading to struggle in opposition to restrictions on such practices. In 2011 Japan, along with other whaling countries, staged a walkout of a conference in protest of proposals to establish whale sanctuaries in the Atlantic. Japan has viewed attempts to end whaling as a breach of its cultural, scientific, and economic well being (Black, 2011).

For additional information on Greenpeace and the Save The Whales campaign, please click here.

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