Almost every other day devastating wildlife news hog the headlines. From snaring, roadkills, elephant rampages, primates at risk, killing of sunbears, consumption of turtle eggs, sale of wildlife through social media and the list goes on endlessly.
News of yet another species going extinct is the charismatic creature found in Sabah – the pangolins. Heading the way of the dodo, the mammal is the world’s most trafficked animal, due to the threat it faces from consumers in Vietnam and China. Hundreds of other species are in a precarious position because of consumers’ voracious and insatiable appetite for animal parts. Sun bears are hunted very, very heavily for their gall bladders and now seriously threatened. International trade often drives dynamics that vacuum key species from ecosystems leaving behind devastated habitats bereft of life and livelihoods.
In an ideal world, trade in endangered species could be controlled by reducing demand and by educating people in the consumer states. But in the face of growing criticism concerning interference with cultural traditions and ignorance of poverty, certainly there would not be much time to save many of the species.
In the demand reduction efforts, the focus is on controlling supply through national and international regulation in the face of growing involvement of sophisticated, well funded and increasingly armed criminal organisations in the illegal wildlife trade, along with the need for enforcement efforts to match this level of sophistication in order for it to be effective.
The Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) is the one international legal framework specifically targeted at controlling trade in endangered species. However the impression one had of CITES after weighing the arguments and outcomes is that it had more to do with protecting commercial interests than protecting wildlife. As far as endangered wildlife species and international trade is concerned, it is apparent that CITES has been ineffective in controlling illegal trade. Unfortunately there has been no evaluation of CITES since it came into being. Trade is allowed on a sustainable basis. Can CITES honestly give examples of species that have been sustainably traded in the region? Are there any check and balance by CITES to ensure that species are not wiped out?
Now wildlife is imperiled more than ever with the use of social media and online tools for sale and purchase of animals, birds and others. Log onto any Internet sites and a whole charnel house of endangered and protected species hawked openly or under fictitious names in violation of the law and international agreements. So far only eBay is one of the few that makes a serious effort in the control of wildlife smuggling by deleting ads for illegal products – only the few it notices or hears about. So far attempted controls are few and largely ineffective.
The Asean Wildlife Enforcement Agency (ASEAN_WEN) was established on 1st December 2005. Until today has there been any effective enforcement of legislation governing conservation, trade and sustainable use of wild fauna and flora? What is the success rate at which species of flora and fauna are sustainably used? Letters to them often draws a blank.
Government and NGOs in the Asian region has to come up with new, innovative strategies of substantial scale to address demand by highlighting how global consumer culture connects all of us to the wildlife trade and organized crime. We should not wait until every wildlife has faded into oblivion.
Most importantly the regions must build an appetite for conservation not consumption by educating young people to build respect for life and appreciation of animals for what they are, not what use they are to us.
S M Mohamed Idris