Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month, zoo officials, scientists, and wildlife experts with the 9th Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation Conference (ZACC) agreed that urgent action is needed to combat the well-organized and heavily armed criminals who are draining the world's ecosystems of wildlife and threatening human populations.
On the heels of the U.S. government's recent announcement of $10 million to assist African countries with anti-poaching efforts to protect elephants, rhinos and other wildlife, the ZACC delegates urged all governments and international groups to launch sustained campaigns to stop the illegal killing of wildlife, including increased law enforcement with prompt and serious punishments for wildlife crime, more cooperation between governments to combat cross-border activity, and campaigns to raise awareness among consumers about the illegal wildlife trade.
ZACC delegates also noted that the wildlife trade was devastating imperiled species on several continents including the world’s most iconic species such as big cats and great apes, sharks and rays, countless birds, turtles and other reptiles, and lesser-known animals, such as pangolins and slow lorises. The trade is feeding demand for illegal traditional medicine, exotic pets, bushmeat, and other wildlife products such as ivory. In parts of the world, poaching and overexploitation have created the "empty forests" phenomenon where even small species such as bats, birds, and rodents have been wiped out.
The illegal wildlife trade is not a subsistence activity, but rather an industry based on organized crime worth multibillions of dollars annually. In addition to decimating animal populations worldwide and robbing current and future generations of their irreplaceable natural heritage, the illegal wildlife trade has been linked to organized criminal activities such as the illicit drug trade, weapons proliferation, and human trafficking. In many parts of the world, the illegal wildlife trade is generating money that funds terrorism.
Roger Wilkinson, Head of Field Conservation and Research said: “The illegal killing and capture of wildlife is now one of the major global conservation issues alongside habitat loss and climate change. The killing of rhinos for their horn threatens the viability of the last remaining and now tiny free living population of black rhinos in Kenya whilst unless this is controlled rhinos worldwide will become extinct in the wild within our own lifetimes.
“Similarly the pet bird trade in Indonesia is already driving dozens of bird species to extinction. Worldwide man’s greed and his striving for status through purchase of wild animal delicacies, bushmeat, traditional medicines and merchandise is impacting not only great apes, elephants, rhinos and tigers but also lesser known animals including unsustainable killing and trade in turtles, pangolins, birds and corals. Act for Wildlife by campaigning against this.”
Reasons to act now
• Rhino poaching, especially in southern Africa, is continuing to devastate populations. The International Rhino Foundation estimates that at least one rhino has been lost every 7 hours in South Africa this year so far.
• The last Vietnamese rhino was killed by poachers in 2009 and the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011 largely due to the wildlife trade, sending two distinct subspecies to extinction.
• As many as 30,000 elephants are slaughtered by poachers annually for their ivory.
• Forest elephants have declined by 62 percent in the past ten years due to poaching.
• Tiger populations have declined by 95 percent over the past 100 years. Only 3,200 tigers remain with an estimated 1,000 females.
• Ninety-seven million sharks were cruelly captured and killed for their fins in 2010.
• 40,000-60,000 pangolins were killed in 2011 in Vietnam alone. Several Asian species have recently been classified as Endangered.
• Big cats, such as lions and leopards, are now being killed to replace tiger parts used in traditional Chinese medicine.