For years and years, humans have treated the Earth like its own personal backyard and taking indiscriminately. Animals have become endangered with some even going extinct due to the greed of the people. Laws have been put in place since and protected areas erected, and yet there does not seem to be a stop to any of these activities.

Turn on the news and it seems like every other day sees somebody heading to a national park to shoot and kill animals for enjoyment. Some do it for fun while others do it for profit. Rhinoceros horns, elephant tusks, and crocodile skin are but some of the products that are now illegal exports, and yet the market is still open due to the ever-present demand.

Here at the Wave, there is an explicit focus on marine life. You’d think that maybe, just maybe, because life under the ocean is usually beyond reach and so “out of sight, out of mind”, right?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of illegal wildlife trade going on, and this is a piece to get the conversation rolling on a topic that people usually like to keep quiet. Let’s do this.

Behind the scenes

Most people will know, by now, that Rhinoceros are endangered due to illegal poaching. In 2013, poaching levels had increased by 7,700% from 2007, from 13 Rhinos poached back then to 1,004 in 2013. This is truly incredible, as the Rhinoceros have been threatened or endangered for many years now. For example, two of the three species of Rhino are thought to be extinct in the wild, with the other having lost most of its 100,000 individuals (only about 2,500 are alive today) over the last century.

Marine wildlife is moving in a similar vein. Cyanide fishing is illegal in the Philippines, yet it is still practiced, with about 90% of all tropical fish imported into the U.S. (via the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka) are caught this way. Unfortunately, not only is enforcement inadequate, but it has also been reported that private plane fly in with the cyanide and out with the fish as soon as they’re caught.

Image: James Cervino | NOAA

Elsewhere on the deep blue, transshipment is still a problem. Simply put, transshipment is the moving of marine life (dead or alive) onto larger “container ships” from smaller fishing fleets. This helps the smaller fleets get away with overfishing or keeping hold of illegal products. This also allows these little fishing boats to stay out longer and continue fishing. Shark fins and wildlife smuggling happens this way.

As long as there is a market for the product, there will always be a demand.

As long as there is a market for the product, there will always be a demand. If the product becomes illegal and the demand still remains, the product will just head underground into the black market and will exchange hands for crazy high prices.

Money.

There is no bigger driver than greed and profit, and this is the primary reason for the illegal wildlife trade. Just think about it – the body of a shark is large and heavy, and not many can fit in a fishing boat. Plus, the demand in the market is very low, driving the prices into the ground. The fins, however, are light and easy to carry, and with black market prices skyrocketing, it is easy to see why finning still happens.

Image: ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

The fishing industry is a mega-billion dollar industry, feeding billions of people every year. The profit margin is set to continue increasing due to the increasing populations and the depletion of the oceans. This will continue until proper measures are taken to shut down movement of product into the black market.

Another reason is vanity, really. Anybody who participates in the trade of illegal livestock wants nothing but bragging rights. The illegal pet trade is unsurprisingly lucrative, especially since most pet stores rightly do not carry these animals, they’re harder to find, and naturally much more expensive than commercially farmed creatures.

Why does it need to be stopped?

Image: turtleconservancy.org

Most of the illegally poached marine animals are dangerously close to extinction. Take, for example, the Palawan Forest Turtle. It was believed to be extinct until 2001, where it was found again. A scientific paper in 2004 announced its resurgence and the illegal trade for it began. Today, only 3000 individuals remain and are critically endangered.

These products were made illegal with the animals in mind, with most of them hovering between life and an unjust death of the species. However, if the product becoming illegal does not stop its trade, the animals move closer and closer to certain doom.

Can it be stopped?

Images: news.nationalgeographic.com

Of course! The black market is wide and far-reaching, but as consumers, you are the ones with the biggest say. There will not be a market for anything consumers refuse to buy, driving prices low, and eventually allowing for the effort and cost it takes to attain the product to prove not worthwhile.

If you do see any of the following animals (or their products) being sold in the markets or by a private seller, please contact the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ((02) 929 6626 or (02) 988 3367) immediately.

Is there even a point in trying?

Image: turtleconservancy.org

If protecting wildlife that is threatened with extinction is something you care about, it is definitely worth a shot.

Yes, there is. If protecting wildlife that is threatened with extinction is something you care about, it is definitely worth a shot. It was only recently that the dugong was yanked back from the jaws of extinction, and even though it was the fault of men who put them in the precarious situation, to begin with, it was the actions of people who cared a lot who gave them their second lease on life.

There are many ways of going about this.

  • If you decide that politics is for you, then work your way up the ladder, and vote on bills that will strengthen the grip on the illegal wildlife trade.
  • If you want to be hands-on and help the animals themselves, a path of zoology or marine biology is open for you. Law enforcement is also a good way to help curb these illegal activities.
  • If your interest is in the marine aquarium, do keep in mind that most marine livestock is caught in the wild by cyanide fishing, and are either unhealthy, overstressed, or dying.
  • When purchasing, only purchase farm bred fish and coral, or do not purchase at all! Current practices need to change before the marine aquarium is a sustainable, viable hobby.

In the end, if the people who care stop trying, the illegal wildlife traders win, and these marine creatures do not stand a chance. Every bust either saves a bunch of animals or stops profits from squirming into the wrong hands.

Help out, be a hero and stop illegal wildlife trade!