Wildlife parts promoted as "investments" in China raises alarms
The International Police Organization (INTERPOL) convened a series of meetings with law enforcement chiefs and officers from around the world in Bangkok last week. The meetings aimed to find law enforcement based solutions to combat the ever-escalating trans-national crime against the environment, from illegal logging, dumping to illegal trade of protected wildlife.
I talked about how wealth has replaced health as the main driver of illegal wildlife trade in China and other countries, where supply channels are moving into unregulated territory on the auction block and online.
Our monitoring of wildlife markets in China indicates that an overwhelming majority of illegal wildlife products are now sold by collectors, auction houses, arts and crafts and other specialty purveyors who tout wildlife products such as tiger bone wine and rhino horn for their value as investments. Even for products that historically were traded for medicinal value, such as “tiger bone wine” is now being promoted at auctions for its “rarity” and “collection value.”
Like any other commodity, the more rare and desirable a thing is, the higher its perceived value. With many endangered species such as tigers and rhinoceros on the thin edge of extinction, their parts are increasingly in demand, which in turn, gives added incentive for illegal traders to traffic in them and poachers to kill them in the wild.
Websites and auction houses, which are largely unregulated in many countries, play an especially prominent role in facilitating the trade for wildlife products. Based on spot checks of Taobao.com, China’s largest online trade portal during 2011, of the more than 1,200 wildlife products listed, 99% were for collectibles, antiques and artifacts. Only 11 of the listings were for traditional Chinese medicine products such as tiger bone gelatin and pangolin scale powder.
The problem is not confined to one country. A lack of national legislation to regulate the auction industry, unfortunately, enables buyers anywhere to bid on, buy and ship endangered species around the world.