SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL IMPLICATION OF ILLEGAL TRADE ON WILDWILDLIFE
I feel greatly honored to have been invited to be the guest lecturer at this year World Environment Day’s Celebration being hosted by the Government of Rivers State through the Federal Ministry of Environment. Thank you very much for this invitation.
Let us begin by reminding ourselves that the World Environment Day also known as the Environment Day, Eco Day or WED is marked each year to call attention to the importance and problems of the environment in our lives and development. The 5th of June every year has been adopted by the United Nations to commemorate the day. The first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment opened in Stockholm in 1972. The day has been set aside since then by the United Nations Assembly, to draw attention and hopefully stimulate political and people’s actions on the environment and its problems.
The WED is being celebrated on yearly basis to among other things, achieve the following objectives:
i) To make aware the common public about the environment issues
ii) To encourage the common people from different societies and communities to actively participate in the celebration as well as become an active agent in developing environmental safety measures.
iii) To let community peple know that they are essential to inhibit negative changes towards environmental issues
iv) To encourage oepole to make their sorroooundings safe and clean so as to enjoy safer, cleaner and more prosperous future.
For detail information on WED including available materials, the range of activities that can be used for marking the day, as well as the official events and messages for the occasion the website of UNEP can be visited.
Each year the celebration focuses on a theme and adopts a city/country as host for marking this United Nations day. The host country for 2016 World Environment Day is Angola, a country that is seeking to restore its elephant populations and the theme is ‘Fight Against Illegal Trade on Wildlife. It is from this theme that I have adopted the title for my lecture which is the “Social and Ecological Implications of Illegal Trade on Wildlife”. This title reflects the problem associated with illegal trade on wildlife that can support human life in the limited space of one planet, Earth if sustainably utilized. In order to maintain the focus on the theme and at the same time draw attention to the value and significance of wildlife to human existence and threats to their future survival, I will devote most of the lecture to what wildlife is, its importance for human existence and development, nature of trade on wildlife and threats to their survival. I will then conclude by highlighting some of the actions being taken to conserve wildlife in Nigeria.
However, before I commence the lecture, permit me to commend the Government of Rivers State for hesitant Stride in marking this year World Environment Day through a week long programme. I have no double that this effort has serves as a vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the environment as envisaged by United Nations General Assembly. Some of the positive environment action taken in the state through this year World Environment Day in the past 7 days, must have inculcated in all and Sunday in Rivers State the fact that everyone is responsible for saving our environment and not only somebody, government or organizations working for it
What is Wildlife:
Wildlife traditionally refers to undomesticated animal species, but has come to include all plants, fungi, and other organisms that grow or live wild in an area without being introduced by humans.
Wildlife can be found in all ecosystems. Deserts, forests, rain forests, plains, grasslands, and other areas including the most developed urban sites, all have distinct forms of wildlife. While the term in popular culture usually refers to animals that are untouched by human factors, most scientists agree that much wildlife is affected by human activities.
Humans have historically tended to separate civilization from wildlife in a number of ways including the legal, social, and moral sense. Some animals, however, have adapted to suburban environments. This includes such animals as domesticated cats, dogs, mice, and gerbils. Some religions have often declared certain animals to be sacred, and in modern times concern for the natural environment has provoked activists to protest the exploitation of wildlife for human benefit or entertainment.
The global wildlife population has decreased by 52 percent between 1970 and 2014, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund.
The Importance of Wildlife
The scope of wildlife is vast and there is no possible way to discuss the importance of each contributor to the ecological system as a whole. The most important lesson to take away from this is that without wildlife – human life would not exist. Let’s discuss the fundamentals of wildlife and survival before we go on to other aspects of wildlife importance. It might be worth noting that a lot of the discussion here is based around scientific concepts of life.
Broadly speaking, ecology is the study of environmental systems and everything that resides within those environments. Ecology is particularly focused on how organisms living within an ecosystem interact with the living and non-living environment that surrounds them. An ecosystem is a community of natural bodies that live and work together in an interconnected web for survival. The best way to think about this is the food chain.
How are we dependent on wildlife? We – more often than not – wear clothes, we eat, we live in houses, we write on paper, we breathe air and we take medicine – just to name a few. So how do those things relate to wildlife and the continuous balance of ecosystems, populations and communities?
• The clothes we wear come from cotton, hemp or other plant fibres that are manufactured into wearable items.
• The food we eat, obviously, comes from animals and plants. If there was no one to eat eggs from chickens, all of those eggs could potentially hatch.
• The houses we build and live in are often constructed using wildlife resources like wood from trees. Many cultures around the world once constructed their houses using other natural resources like animal bones for tools, soil compositions for clay structures, and plant elements for shelter.
• The paper we write and print on comes from trees and other plant fibres. Remember to recycle because the more paper we use, the more deforestation occurs and the more this affects certain ecosystems.
• The air we breathe would be toxic if it weren’t for plant photosynthesis of which oxygen is a by-product.
• Phytoplankton play a huge role in eliminating carbon from our atmosphere and contributing to the dissolved oxygen levels of water.
• Medicine would be reduced to chemically synthesized lab-projects that are considered unsafe for consumption
• Our environment promotes incredible biodiversity, and it’s this biodiversity that contributes directly to the sustainability of all life on the planet.
• As we already discussed, all life on the planet is interdependent. Every organism has a role that it plays in the bigger picture of life.
Earlier we talked about ecosystems and the importance of maintaining a balance within these communities. Why does it matter? Imbalanced ecosystems have detrimental effects on wildlife and humans. Human health is strongly linked to the health of ecosystems, which meet many of our most critical needs, explains Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for the Protection of the Human Environment.
What is wildlife trade?
Whenever people sell or exchange wild animal and plant resources, this is wildlife trade. It can involve live animals and plants or all kinds of wild animal and plant products. Wildlife trade is easiest to track when it is from one country to another because it must be checked, and often recorded, at Customs checkpoints.
Why do people trade wildlife?
People trade wildlife for cash or exchange it for other useful objects – for example, utensils in exchange for wild animal skins. Driving the trade is the end-consumer who has a need or desire for wildlife products, whether for food, construction or clothing.
Social Implication of wildlife Trade
As human populations have grown, so has the demand for wildlife. People in many countries are accustomed to a lifestyle which fuels demand for wildlife. They expect access to a variety of sea foods, leather goods, timbers, medicinal ingredients and textiles. At the other end, extreme poverty means some people see wildlife as valuable barter for trade.
High Profit Margins
Illegal wildlife trade is driven by high profit margins and, in many cases, the high prices paid for rare species. Vulnerable wild animals are pushed further to the edge of extinction when nature can’t replenish their stocks to keep up with the rate of human consumption.
Demand Drives Crime
Rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger products continue to command high prices among consumers, especially in Asia. In Vietnam, the recent myth that rhino horn can cure cancer has led to massive poaching in South Africa and pushed the price of rhino horn to rival gold.
Gaps in Protection
Corruption, toothless laws, weak judicial systems and light sentences allow criminal networks to keep plundering wildlife with little regard to consequences. These factors make illegal wildlife trade a low risk business with high returns. The poachers—often poor locals—are the usually the only ones caught, leaving the real masterminds and their network safe and operational with the ability to strike again.
What is wildlife trade worth financially?
This is a difficult estimate to make. As a guideline, TRAFFIC has calculated that wildlife products worth about 160 US billion dollars were imported around the globe each year in the early 1990s. In addition to this, there is a large and profitable illegal wildlife trade, but because it is conducted covertly no-one can judge with any accuracy what this may be worth.
Illegal Wildlife Trade and Its Impact
The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 elephants—was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011. Poaching threatens the last of our wild tigers that number around 3,890.
Wildlife crime is a big business. Run by dangerous international networks, wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms. By its very nature, it is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures for the value of illegal wildlife trade. Experts at TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, estimate that it runs into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some examples of illegal wildlife trade are well known, such as poaching of elephants for ivory and tigers for their skins and bones. However, countless other species are similarly overexploited, from marine turtles to timber trees. Not all wildlife trade is illegal. Wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold legitimately as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist ornaments and medicine. Wildlife trade escalates into a crisis when an increasing proportion is illegal and unsustainable—directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild.
Stamping out wildlife crime should be a priority for all because it’s the largest direct threat to the future of many of the world’s most threatened species. It is second only to habitat destruction in overall threats against species survival.
Ecological Implication of wildlife trade
Each year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist curios and medicine. While a great deal of this trade is legal and is not harming wild populations, a worryingly large proportion is illegal-and threatens the survival of many endangered species. with overexploitation being the second-largest direct threat to many species after habitat loss, WWF addresses illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade as a priority issue.
Second-biggest direct threat to species after habitat destruction
What is the scale of wildlife trade?
The trade involves hundreds of millions of wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species. To provide a glimpse of the scale of wildlife trafficking, there are records of over 100 million tonnes of fish, 1.5 million live birds and 440,000 tonnes of medicinal plants in trade in just one year.
Why is wildlife trade a problem?
Wildlife trade is by no means always a problem and most wildlife trade is legal. However, it has the potential to be very damaging. Populations of species on earth declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000 – and the second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade. Perhaps the most obvious problem associated with wildlife trade is that it can cause overexploitation to the point where the survival of a species hangs in the balance.
Historically, such overexploitation has caused extinctions or severely threatened species and, as human populations have expanded, demand for wildlife has only increased. Recent overexploitation of wildlife for trade has affected countless species. This has been well-publicized in the cases of tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants and others, but many other species are affected.
• Harms human livelihoods.
Wildlife is vital to the lives of a high proportion of the world’s population, often the poorest. Some rural households depend on local wild animals for their meat protein and on local trees for fuel, and both wild animals and plants provide components of traditional medicines used by the majority of people in the world. While many people in developed countries are cushioned from any effects caused by a reduced supply of a particular household item, many people in the developing world depend entirely on the continued availability of local wildlifere sources.
• Harms the balance of nature.
In addition to the impact on human livelihoods caused by the over-harvesting of animals and plants is the harm caused by overexploitation of species to the living planet in a wider way. For example, overfishing does not only affect individual fishing communities and threaten certain fish species, but causes imbalances in the whole marine system. As human life depends on the existence of a functioning planet Earth, careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats is required to avoid not only extinctions, but serious disturbances to the complex web of life.
Particular problems are associated with illegal wildlife trade, which is usually driven by a demand for rare, protected species which need to be smuggled and/or by a desire to avoid paying duties. In illegal wildlife trade, some species involved are highly endangered, conditions of transport for live animals are likely to be worse and wildlife is more likely to have been obtained in an environmentally damaging way. The existence of illegal trade is also worrying because it undermines countries’ efforts to protect their natural resources.
Wildlife trade can also cause indirect harm through:
• Introducing invasive species
Which then prey on, or compete with, native species. Invasive species are as big a threat to the balance of nature as the direct overexploitation by humans of some species. Many invasive species have been purposely introduced by wildlife traders; examples include the American Mink, the Red-eared Terrapin and countless plant species.
Incidental killing of non-target species, such as dolphins and seabirds, when they are caught in fishing gear. It is estimated that over a quarter of the global marine fisheries catch is incidental, unwanted, and discarded. Incidental killing of animals also happens on land when crude traps are set (for example, for musk deer or duikers). These cause damage and death to a variety of animals besides the intended ones. There are certain places in the world where wildlife trade is particularly threatening. These areas are called “wildlife trade hotspots.” They include China’s international borders, trade hubs in East/Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the European Union, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. While these hotspots might be trouble areas at present, they also offer opportunities for great conservation success, if action and funds are well-focused. Wildlife trade alone is a major threat to some species, but its impact is frequently made worse by habitat loss and other pressures.
The very existence of illegal trade undermines efforts made by countries to protect their natural resources. Illegal wildlife trade is run by criminal networks with wide, international reach. Some traffic illegal drugs, arms and even people. Recent evidence shows that some networks are also linked to terrorist organizations.
Local wildlife is considered an important resource by many communities, often the poorest, in the developing world. Some rural households depend on wild animals for protein, trees for fuel, and both wild animals and plants for natural cures.
Interruption of Nature
Overexploitation of species affects the living planet in wider ways. Just as overfishing causes imbalances in the whole marine system, our complex web of life on earth depends on careful and thoughtful use of wildlife species and their habitats.
Many invasive species have been purposely introduced by wildlife traders or buyers. These invasive species prey on or compete with native species and are a major threat to the balance of nature. For example pet Burmese pythons let loose by their owners are now considered a major pest in Florida’s everglades.
Incidental Killing of Non-Target Species
Like marine species killed through by catch, incidental killing of animals also happens on land. For example, crude traps set for musk deer or duikers cause damage and death to a variety of animals besides those intended
WWF’s range of expertise ensures that the threats to the environment from wildlife trade are tackled from an informed and global standpoint.
Taking example from what WWF is doing
The majority of WWF’s work to stop illegal wildlife trade is done in collaboration with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. We also work closely with other partners, including conservation organizations, local communities and governments. WWF’s expertise ensures that the threats to the environment from wildlife trade are tackled from an informed and global standpoint.
There are few places left on the planet where the impact of people has not been felt. We have explored and left our footprint on nearly every corner of the globe. As our population and needs grow, we are leaving less and less room for wildlife.
Wildlife are under threat from many different kinds of human activities, from directly destroying habitat to spreading invasive species and disease. Most ecosystems are facing multiple threats. Each new threat puts additional stress on already weakened ecosystems and their wildlife.
While wildlife trade alone is a major threat to some species, it is important to remember that its impact is frequently made worse by habitat loss and other pressures.
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