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EarthTalk - How is the fight to prevent wildlife trafficking going?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

How is the fight to prevent wildlife trafficking going?

L.K., Chicago, IL

Wildlife trafficking, defined as the illegal trapping and/or poaching of wildlife for consumer trade, is second only to habitat loss as one of the largest modern threats to wildlife. The criminal practice overwhelmingly targets elephants, large reptiles and coral, and has resulted in the extinction of rare species of plants, reptiles and fish. High extinction risk is common among species targeted by wildlife crime; of the 4,000 species worldwide that are currently poached for trafficking, 40 percent are already listed as threatened or near-threatened.

The trade also harms people, as many foreign animals can spread dangerous diseases to previously unexposed people and livestock. Impoverished peoples in the poached animals’ countries of origin are especially harmed by the industry, as the profiting criminal organizations often blackmail people with limited financial options into doing dangerous work for them.

Despite the harm wildlife trafficking has caused to wildlife and people, the industry has continued to expand over the last century, and now has an estimated annual value of roughly $23 billion. Thanks to practices such as trophy hunting, hoarding and exotic tourism gaining momentum over the years, the demand for poached wildlife goods has only increased.

Additional access to the industry has been provided by the convenience, safety and relative anonymity of online transactions, making it harder than ever to track the transportation and delivery of goods. Many nations that suffer from high rates of wildlife trafficking also lack sufficient law enforcement and security to adequately monitor their borders for illegal traders. However, many governments, nonprofits and environmental workers are making efforts to remedy these issues.

In 2022, the United States Agency for International Development committed $75 million per year towards reducing trafficking in more than 35 African, Asian and Latin American countries. The money will go towards behavior change campaigns, more careers in conservation, and increased law implementation and security capacity so that borders are more consistently monitored. Similar efforts from the likes of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and the non-profit Wildlife Conservation Society have already led to a 35 percent increase in convictions for wildlife crimes. These programs are key in our societal efforts to collaborate with governments, indigenous peoples, local communities and local tourism and transportation to discourage wildlife crime.

Trafficking often feels like a distant issue, but there are still ways for us to help combat wildlife crimes. For starters, any evidence of online trafficking should be reported to the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online or the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Tourists should also exercise caution when encountering especially exotic goods, experiences or foods. You can verify if some organic products — specifically fish, supermarket goods, and products made with palm oil — are sustainably sourced by visiting the websites for Good Fish Guide, the Giki app, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil respectively.


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