World Wildlife Day, an occasion to denounce wildlife crime

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While we do and should celebrate the wonder of wildlife on this day, we must face a grim reality.

An increasing amount of wildlife is being cruelly victimized by self-centered human behaviours. While some damage results from the complicated issues of sharing the same habitat within this biologically diverse ecosystem we call planet Earth, a large, growing percentage of damage is tied to human beings’ need to consume these creatures in some form or another.

What’s more, there has been an alarming resurgence of human beings engaged in illegal trade exploiting these creatures for monetary gain. In some extreme cases, we know these profits are being used to fund ongoing acts of violence on humans and trade of other illegal goods and services.

Madness.

The numbers are horrific:

  • Every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its ivory to be carved into trinkets no one needs.
  • Poaching of rhinos in South Africa has increased nearly 10,000% since 2007 for unproven medicinal uses.
  • 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins – only so the elite can enjoy soup at luxurious banquets.
  • Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild in part because their bones and pelts fetch high prices for dubious medicinal purposes and decorations.
  • By 2050, if nothing changes, polar bear populations will decline by two-thirds.
  • 34,000 whales have been killed despite a global ban on commercial whaling.

We witness reports of massive slaughter, like we did in Boubanjida, Cameroon when at least 200 elephants were massacred by a band of roaming poachers. Our hearts ache when we see the footage of a disoriented and frightened rhino, stumbling down a ditch by the side of the road because some evil being had hacked off its horn and left him to die an excruciatingly painful death.

We see the remnants of once-vibrant life caught in deadly snares and unforgiving nets in Africa, India and Asia.

We are taking more from nature than nature can replenish. And unless we change our ways, we must come to terms with massive extinction and irreversible loss of the biodiversity that supports us and enriches our lives.

But beyond the unknown impact of this loss on our human lives and our planet, we must be aware of the devastating impact of our actions on the individual lives of these animals. We are committing acts of violence on innocent creatures, many of whom exhibit traits we once thought were only human—sentience, an ability to form intense familial bonds, a penchant for community organization, compassion, perhaps even love.

Is that what we want our mark on the world to be? As a species that exploited all other species? Living creatures that caused horrific suffering to our fellow creatures?

Surely, given our intelligence, talents and abilities, we can evolve our thinking and our behaviours.

More dreadful facts:

The rhino population in South Africa stands at about 26,000. Last year, a record number of them (1,215) were killed for their horns, which can command astronomically high values on the international black market.  For what? To be used as an aphrodisiac, dubious Traditional Medicine treatments, trophy, or investment.

African elephants number somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000. In just the last three years, 100,000 have been killed for ivory, and the overall population has declined by as much as 95% in the last century. What’s more, the poaching and illegal trafficking that fuels a growing demand is often part of larger criminal networks, and there is proof that large seizures of 500kg or more indicate large-scale operations, even ties to established organized crime. And many consumers have no inkling their purchase or ‘investment’ may indeed fund a sinister or nefarious enterprise.

Sharks, many species of which we fought so hard for at the latest meetings of the Convention on Migratory Species, are being killed in numbers of 100 million per year. Certain populations have already decreased by as much as 80 and 90 percent.

Tigers and polar bears also die needlessly for a variety of human “uses.”

Shocking wildlife crime stats are not limited to these five types of fauna. Consider these numbers from the last year:

7,469 Red Notices issued for all types of environmental offences in the first ten months of 2014. Source: INTERPOL

33,006 Live wild animals and their parts and products available for sale during a three-week period of research on 280 online marketplaces in 16 different countries. Source: IFAW report Wanted— Dead or Alive: Exposing the Online Wildlife Trade

51 Live turtles carefully taped to the legs and groin of Kai Xu – also known as “Turtle Man.” He was apprehended at the Canadian border of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. The incident was only part of Xu’s far more elaborate and lucrative operation, which involved smuggling thousands of reptiles all over the world. Source: Office of Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward

$7 million USD Money netted by a huge illegal conspiracy by the “Groenewald Gang” that resulted in hundreds of rhinos killed or dehorned.

1 in 351 The number of auctions providing documentation to authenticate the provenance, age or legality of the ivory offered for sale. Source: IFAW report Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis and the Role of Auctions in the U.S. Ivory Market (2014).

266 percent The increase in number of ads for endangered wildlife on online marketplaces accessible in Australia and New Zealand since comparable research was done in 2008. Source: IFAW report Click to Delete, Australia (2014), Click to Delete, New Zealand (2014)

These statistics should shock us all into action.

We need to come together to denounce the scourge of illegal wildlife trade and impart to people globally that animals need to be respected, celebrated and most importantly protected on this World Wildlife Day.

--KA

Help us spread the word. Share our World Wildlife Day posters on social media or go to www.wildlifeday.org to take action for animals today.

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Experts

Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jeffrey Flocken, Regional Director, North America
Regional Director, North America
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy