Coffee exporting and trading is worth $20 billion per year and this figure increases every year. If you compare this number to the trade in wildlife that is estimated at $19 billion per year, it will become clear that wildlife trade has become a major industry. The similarity between these businesses stops at the numbers because their natural environment and conditions are not the same. When coffee is harvested, the trees continue to grow and produce another crop. When animals are traded, the environment and natural habitat continue to crash. It is worth examining how the trade in wildlife has grown and what demand is fueling it.
A large proportion of this trade is legal and does not damage wildlife, but it is important not to overlook illegal trade that threatens the survival of wild populations, including endangered species. Legal trade is theoretically sustainable, while illegal trade is not.
The following examples showcase how human demand leads to animal extinction, this being the first step in creating solutions that are sustainable.
Parrots are highly intelligent, colorful birds and have been known as pets for over two thousand years. While most species can be bred in captivity, there is a global market for wild parrots as well. There is no advantage to keep these beautiful animals captive. In fact, if they aren’t habituated to humans, their desire for independence can make them aggressive. They are trapped for the pet market simply because there is an opportunity to turn a wild resource into cash.
Mexico has struggled with the parrot market, alternately permitting and restricting the trapping of these animals by law. An example of the perverse nature of wildlife markets is that the reintroduction of permitted trapping increased illegal trade because it provided a cover for the black market, also reducing the risks of black market operators.
Soup with Status
Shark finning is the practice of hunting a shark and cutting off its fins. After the process is done, the animal is dumped back into the water where it eventually dies. The fins are dried and sold for approximately $200 per pound.
The end use for the 100 million sharks caught annually is soup. In Chinese culture, this thin soup with tasteless gelatinous shark fin strips is a symbol for good fortune, honor, and prestige. Historically, the market for the soup was limited to the elite class, but as prosperity in China has expanded, so has the demand for this purchase.
Any wild animal that can be butchered and sold on a local market is called bushmeat. In Africa, this practice has put significant hunting pressure on great apes, including gorillas and chimpanzees. While the practice of taking apes for food is illegal, enforcement is still difficult. The meat is commonly smoked, making it indistinguishable from that of other species.
Changing the Market
Kenya recently burned 105 tons of ivory.People in Kenya consider that allowing a legal trade in ivory results in masking the greater black market trade. When it comes to species that are not being sustainably harvested, legal trade will have this effect. Kenya also succeeded in making the animals more valuable alive than dead by means of tourism.
Another approach to reducing wildlife trade is that of closing the exchange outlets. Sixteen major online retailers like eBay and LiveAuctioneers.com recently made a pledge to stop these sales, regardless of their source.
Since animals have become commodities, the most effective approach in preventing animal extinction is transforming the market. We have to find a way to reduce demand, supply and therefore exchange selling mechanisms.