Saturday, January 4, 2014

The threat. Animal poaching explored.

Every once in a while you’ll come across a documentary on BBC2 that highlights the problems animals are facing in todays world. The documentary will be emotive and moving, it will stir an audience, create anger and shock, but once the documentary ends the emotions it stirred will end with it. We’ll flick to another channel, one filled with fluff and imaginary drama and the problems the programme addressed are forgotten. Poaching is an ongoing and very real crisis, animals that deserve as much right to this planet will soon become extinct if the problem continues to be ignored. Poaching is typically defined as the illegal hunting of animals yet intentional possession, transportation, consumption and selling of the animal also come under the definition. Poaching can be a complicated topic to understand and whilst we may feel sympathetic towards the problem there is a sense of helplessness, after all with the majority of illegal hunting being carried out in Africa and Asia we are half a world a way, which begs the person to ask what can I do about it? However, if more people are made aware of the current vulnerability of endangered animals we are able to make a difference. 

According to WWF (no date) ‘The illegal wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to the survival of some of the world’s rarest species. In fact it’s second only to habitat destruction as a cause of species loss and potential extinction’ alongside this the website goes onto say that there’s been an ‘unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade across the world in recent years’. Clearly, poaching is not something of an uncivilised and barbaric past but is very much happening today. The reasons behind poaching are numerous and vast dependent upon the stage in which the illegal activity is undertaken. In many Asian countries, particularly China, animal parts are believed to have certain healing powers and so, incorporated into Traditional Chinese medicine. Yet, despite this, there has been very little proof to suggest that the body parts of certain animals have proprieties beneficial to human recovery. However, the primary factor behind such practices is, of course, money. According to an article in the Express (Pukas 2013) poaching is ‘the world’s fifth most lucrative criminal activity after trafficking drugs, people, oil and counterfeiting’ this is mainly due to its high demand and huge profit intake. The article states that trafficking wildlife as a business is worth between £4-6 billion globally, and so, it is no surprise that its illegality is no deterrent. However, poaching for some is merely a means of survival. As the article states, ‘poachers earn between £30 to £60 per kilo of ivory. The average elephant tusk weighs 30lb (13.6kg). For those who live on 60p per day as many sub-Saharan Africans do such rewards are not only handsome they are irresistible.’ However, it is due to its demand that such practices occur, animal parts such as elephant tusks and tiger skins act as symbols of wealth and luxury and therefore desired. This display of wealth seems both narcissistic and ignorant as increasingly vulnerable animals are slaughtered in order to become a household item. Due to their ‘value’, elephants, rhinos and tigers are the top three species of animal at risk. 

The tiger is in a critical state, it is perhaps due to their iconicity and size that has made them one of the most endangered of all cats. Tigers are not only poached for traditional Asian medicine but also for their valuable skins, this, according to WWF (no date) ‘is the biggest immediate threat to the species worldwide’. The article states that over the last century ‘wild tiger numbers have fallen disastrously, by more than 95% - mainly due to poaching’. Unfortunately, such a huge number serves to represent the very real dangers of poaching and the potential extinction of the tiger. 

The distinctive rhino horn is a desirable sought after item, and so, extremely profitable for the poaching trade. According to an article by PBS Nature (no date) rhino horns have been used ornamentally in China since the 7th Century, they have been carved into various trinkets such as ceremonial cups, belt buckles, hair pins, and paperweights. Destroying such a powerful creature in order to create something so trivial is overwhelmingly barbaric but as with the tiger, the rhino has been driven to the point of near extinction for human appetite, if such triviality continues we will be left with nothing but a few trinkets of something that once was. However, rhino poaching for human consumption is an unfortunate and gruesome reality as a WWF (no date) report announces that ‘Between 2007-2011, rhino poaching in South Africa increased 3,000%’. As these statistics represent the rhino is a critically endangered species and in major need of our help.

Known as the gentle giant the elephant is a loved and admired species yet it is also one of the top three species subject to poaching. Elephants are prized for the ivory their tusks are made of. Ivory trade is lucrative market and, in fact, its ban has meant that ivory has become more exclusive and therefore more desirable. This has resulted in inflation, and thus, poachers are paid much more to kill these animals. Elephant poaching is perhaps the most heart wrenching due to the elephants maternal nature to their young, many poachers use this as an advantage and attack the young elephant knowing that their real target will try to protect their calf. As the article in the Express informs the physical poaching of the elephant is a gruesome one, the elephants tusks are extracted quickly hacking off most of the elephant’s face in the process, sometimes this procedure is undertaken before the animal is dead. As with the rhino and tiger it is evident that despite the fact that poaching is illegal elephants are being slaughtered as never before. The Express article reinforces this point as it notes that ‘Around 32,000 were killed in Africa last year (2012), which equates to 96 a day’. This is both an astonishing and disturbing fact and if such figures continue to develop extinction of the elephant will be a very real reality. 

The current situation of these animals is critical, however, they are not alone. Activists and organisations such as WWF and Humane Society International are constantly and consistently pushing for social change. Furthermore, agreements and laws have been created to ensure the survival of these animals. For instance, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments around the world. Its aim is to ensure that the international trade in a wild plant or animal does not threaten its future. However whilst laws have changed, attitudes have not and therefore both knowledge and stricter laws need to be implemented. Greater coverage needs to be focused upon the continuing decline of these species in order to try save these animals from unnecessary slaughter.

How can you help?
Social networking is a great way of communication and by reposting blogs, websites and documentaries you as an individual are able to put a message across. Furthermore, many organisations such as those cited in this blog frequently have petitions to sign. The more people that sign the more someone is likely to listen so keeping tabs on whats going on is a great help. The majority of organisations interested in animal rights have websites so accessibility is both simple and easy. Essentially, the idea is to keep in mind the dangers these animals are facing, something as simple as checking the net for regular updates and information can act as a small but important step to the survival of the animals we share this planet with. 

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