It can be easy to forget the fact that we share the world with millions of other animal species. On a day to day basis, we don’t usually encounter animals that are any more exotic than a neighborhood squirrel or our pet dogs and cats. However, this doesn’t mean that our everyday actions don’t have an impact on animals like elephants or rhinoceroses. One prime example of this is the role that we can play in the illegal wildlife trade.
The U.S. is the second largest market for the illegal wildlife trade and we import everything from elephant ivory for name plates and piano keys to shark fins for cartilage supplements and tortoise shell for hair clips. But, because we only see these products as commodities, not as the animals who had to die to create them, we don’t think about how our purchases fuel this illicit trade.
When we look behind these commodities, we find the seedy underbelly of the illegal wildlife trade. Third only to narcotics and weapon trafficking, the wildlife trade is run by a series of international networks, through which thousands of species are traded – alive or dead – to be sold as exotic pets, turned into trophy prizes or souvenirs, used in traditional medicine or simply consumed as food.
To give you a sense of how devastating this trade is, consider the fact that one elephant is killed for their ivory every 15 minutes. We’re not messing around here.
The good news is that there are dozens of groups and rangers working in the fields to protect animals from being poached and sold into this trade. In addition to these brave animal defenders, there are a number of amazing organizations working to strengthen legislation against illegal wildlife trafficking and educate the public to help bring about positive change for animals.
Check out some of the organizations on the forefront of wildlife conservation who are fighting to end this trade, one endangered animal at a time.
1. Wildlife Alliance
Since 2001, Wildlife Alliance has rescued over 56,000 animals from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade. They work in conjunction with the Cambodian Forestry Administration to stop the trade of wildlife parts in restaurants and markets. Additionally, Wildlife Alliance works in the field to arrest poachers and those selling the wildlife parts.
2. World Wildlife Fund
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a household name when it comes to species conservation. Working in partnership with a number of local and national conservation organizations WWF is working to empower local communities to protect their native animals and natural resources.
Combatting the illegal wildlife trade is a major focus of the WWF and they are working to tackle this enormous problem through the Wildlife Crime Technology Project. This dynamic project aims to construct unmanned aerial systems, as well as provide rangers with affordable wildlife tracking devices and rifle shot recognition software. The goal of this project is to give governing bodies a leg up against poachers and help protect animals in their native habitats.
3. Environmental Investigation Agency
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) works to eliminate environmental crime, including trafficking wildlife across borders. This outstanding organization has produced a number of films to help train law enforcement officers on how to handle wildlife crimes. They also carry out undercover investigations to expose illegal markets that exploit endangered animals. Like WWF, EIA also educates local community members on the issues facing endangered species in the effort to empower them to stand up against the illegal wildlife trade.
TRAFFIC works within China, Japan, India, Vietnam and Pakistan to educate the public about the troubles facing many endangered species. Employing a number of personnel to monitor the wildlife markets in Asia, TRAFFIC is in the process of developing a database that will be capable of observing and recording the trade and seizure of wildlife parts.
5. Conservation International
Conservation International works to defend wildlife by supporting local and national governments in their regulation of the illegal trade in parts and animals. They also run a thriving program that helps to relocate animals that are confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. For example, Conservation International recently set up a rehabilitation center in Cambodia for rescued pangolins.
6. International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Strengthening regulations against the illegal wildlife trade is one of IFAW’s main goals. In addition to working with governments, IFAW strives to educate the public to help eliminate the demand for illegal animal parts. To combat the wildlife trade on the ground, IFAW organizes undercover operations and works in conjunction with INTERPOL to train law enforcement and customs officials.
7. Wild Aid
Wild Aid works to reduce the demand for endangered wildlife products on an international level, utilizing multimedia campaigns to raise public awareness. (You might remember the PSA that they produced featuring Yao Ming that called for an end to shark fin soup.)
Wild Aid supports lawmakers to ban the sale of rhino, elephant, pangolin and tigers in a number of countries. Their field teams in China and India work tirelessly with local communities to reduce the demand for tiger parts and products while encouraging environmental stewardship.
8. United for Wildlife
Created by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry (perhaps you’ve heard of them), United for Wildlife (UFW) works to create a global movement of world leaders who want to put an end to the illegal wildlife trade. With such a strong platform to reach millions of people, UFW has joined forces with WWF and Conservation International (just to name a few), to spread awareness for the plight of endangered species.
In 2014, UFW announced it would launch an international task force to help train airline and shipping line employees to identify smuggle wildlife products in an effort to break the connection between suppliers and consumers.
What Can You Do?
In the past 40 years, 52 percent of the world’s wildlife has vanished. We literally cannot afford to allow this loss of species to carry on at this rate. While the organizations listed above are doing an incredible job at raising awareness and implementing legislation to combat the illegal wildlife trade, we can all play a role.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Speak up for the victims of the illegal wildlife trade so that they may have a chance at a future. Share this post with everyone you know!
- Say NO to illegal wildlife products. Ivory trinkets and tortoise shell hair pieces might be pretty, but remember, they come at the cost of an animals life!
- Support these organizations and others working to push governments to pass legislation for stricter penalties and fines for the trade.
By working together, there is hope that we can prevent the extinction of any future species due to these horrific crimes.
Lead image source: Eric Kilby/Wikimedia Commons