The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Tightening the Noose on Wildlife Trafficking

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on February 13, 2013

Wild living resources, under appropriate governance and management, can provide livelihoods for many, in particular rural people. If done well, the sustainable use of wildlife also provides an incentive to conserve natural ecosystems. However, the problem arises when the level of exploitation is capable of heavily depleting wildlife populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Indeed, the world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains and driving extinction of animal species faster than they can adapt. Rhino poaching and illegal horn trade, for example, were reportedly at their highest levels in 2011. By the beginning of that year, there were an estimated 20,165 White Rhinoceros and 4,880 Black Rhinoceros in Africa. At least 1,997 rhinos were poached between 2006 and 2012 and over 4,000 rhino horns have been illegally exported from Africa since 2009. Elephant poaching also reached its highest levelsin a decade in 2011 with an average of 100 elephants per day was killed for ivory. Tiger population has also declined from more than 100,000 in the 1900s to 40,000 in the 1970s to 3,200 now.

Demands for wildlife products have risen in step with economic growth in consumer countries. Rhino horns for example are seen as highly desirable status symbols in parts of Asia, notably Vietnam, but also increasingly in China. It is also seen as the new delicacy of choice among Vietnam’s high-rollers. When the young, fashionable and rich gather to party, they spice up their drink with rhino horn powder. These status-conscious hedonists include men who believe that rhino horn can enhance their sexual performance. It is also believed to serve as hangover-curing tonic and to cure cancer and high fever and is used for expensive gifts to curry favour with elites. Tiger skins and bones are also in great demand for decorative or medicinal use. As a result of these, illegal tradein wildlife products has reached an estimated USD 7.8 to USD 10 billion per year.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) observed in its 2012 report observed that illicit wildlife trafficking compromises the security of countries as much of the trade in illegal wildlife products is run by criminal groups and the profits can be used to finance civil conflicts and terrorist-related activities. Illicit wildlife trafficking also destroys natural wealth by depleting species and in some cases leading to their extinction. In light of these, the report urges governments to acknowledge that the current global approach to fighting illicit wildlife trafficking is failing because governments do not give the issue high enough priority and have not succeeded in implementing an effective response – at either a national or an international level. The absence of an effective response hindered social and economic development, including potential economic loss for governments, and has consequences on the environment as well as national and international security. Protecting wildlife, especially the endangered ones,required governments to increase law enforcement, deterrence and reduce demand for endangered species products.


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