A Discussion on the Illegal Wildlife Trade

23 June 2014 Ape Alliance News

On the 30th April, the charity Ape Alliance held a panel discussion at the University of Bristol on the issue of illegal wildlife trade, a major threat to biodiversity worldwide. The international trade is estimated to be worth £400 billion the illegal component of which is worth £20 billion, and threatens many species, including apes, big cats, elephants and rhinos. It is linked to criminal cartels and terrorism, and each year sees millions of wild animals mutilated, poisoned, shot and trapped in order to be traded by criminal networks, incentivised by high profit margins and low risks of detection and conviction.

Chaired by Ape Alliance founder Ian Redmond OBE, the discussion ran as a ‘Question Time’ style event, where members of the audience could raise questions to a panel composed of four experts: evolutionary biologist and BBC presenter Ben Garrod, Professor in Anthropology Vincent Nijman, head of Research for the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation Dr Christoph Schwitzer, and President of the Born Free Foundation Will Travers OBE.

The illegal ivory trade was heavily discussed: the poaching of elephants and rhinos has had devastating consequences for their populations, with 50, 000 elephants and 1000 rhinos slaughtered in 2013 alone. Members of the audience enquired about potential solutions to the crisis, one of which was the controversial notion of setting up a legal ivory trade. However, the panel unanimously agreed that such an idea would not work, as the sale of ivory, whether legal or illegal, only increases demand. Another proposed solution was to remove rhino horns, preventing them from being targeted by poachers. Will Travers explained that the animal needs its horn for defence and even when removed, a kilogram of ivory remains within the rhino’s head. Previous removal attempts have resulted in the animals being shot anyway, their ears removed to prove to their clients that a rhino had indeed been killed, making rhino horn even more valuable due to its rarity. Professor Vincent Nijman pointed out that the plight of the Asian rhinos is far graver than their African relatives, with less than 60 individual Javan rhino left in the wild. He also spoke of a worrying trend in Vietnam amongst the rich and young of using rhino horn shavings as a ‘hangover cure’, which, unsurprisingly, does not work unless taken with an aspirin.

The killing of wild animals for bush meat is another serious threat to many species, particularly the great apes, a prominent subject of discussion. The trade has escalated in recent years due to logging making more areas of forest accessible and Dr Christoph Schwitzer spoke of how political instability in Madagascar has lead to an increase in the hunting of the islands’ unique wildlife. Ben Garrod recounted his time in Uganda with the Jane Goodall Institute, where he helped to tackle the issue of chimpanzees being trapped in hunting snares. A solution came by teaching the local people how to use the metal wire normally used for snares to make crafts they could sell, providing them with an alternative source of income and saving the chimps from being injured or killed by snares. An audience member also raised concern about the rise of ‘Tiger Temples’ and similar establishments aimed at young, Western student travellers, unaware of the harm caused to the animals they pay to see.  
Another audience member queried the potential shortcomings of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), but both Will Travers, who has attended every meeting to CITES since 1989, and Professor Vincent Nijman, a member of the Dutch CITES Scientific Authority, were quick to defend the work of the treaty. They pointed out that such a global partnership is required to ensure the protection of animals and stressed the importance of international cooperation to combat the threat of extinction.

Ultimately, the panel discussion was successful in providing a stimulating dialogue, with the panellist’s wide range of expertise in different areas of biology offering insightful viewpoints on an issue at the forefront of conservation worldwide and the necessity of stronger regulation to protect precious biodiversity worldwide.

View the original article here

23rd June 2014 | Epigram | Samuel Gregory Manning

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