Today is World Environment Day (WED), designated by the United Nations as a day to increase worldwide awareness of our environment and promote actions to protect and preserve it. Themed “Go Wild for Life,” WED this year highlights the rampant illegal trade in wildlife products that is “eroding Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction.”
The WED site states that the flourishing assault on our wildlife also is “undermining economies and ecoystems, fueling organized crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.” Poaching is often committed by well-funded criminals equipped with night vision goggles, low-flying helicopters, AK-47s and grenade launchers.
In total, environmental crimes cost the global economy $258 billion, according to a study prepared by the United Nations Environmental Program and Interpol, with the blood money going to fund rebel groups and crime syndicates. Among other environmental crimes are trafficking hazardous waste, illegal gold mining and illegal logging.
The study shows a significant increase in environmental crime over the last decade, with some animals completely disappearing – driven to extinction. Wildlife crime is endangering elephants, gorillas, pangolins, rhinos, tigers, Grevy’s zebra and sea turtles, along with a variety of flora, such as wild orchids and Rosewood. At current poaching rates, reports the African Wildlife Foundation, elephants, rhinos and other iconic African wildlife may no longer exist in the wild in your lifetime.
While work is being done, and organizations like IAPF are working on the front lines to train park rangers who serve as the Thin Green Line between criminals and the lives of wild animals, it’s not enough. More is needed at the governmental level and by international bodies in the form of tougher policies and public education campaigns. Many of these animals are poached for their body parts to use in so-called “cures,” which have no actual medicinal value, but are part of long cultural traditions. While traditional beliefs may be hard to displace, this is where educational campaigns could play a role.
Then as more become educated on an individual level, they can share their knowledge with others. Also on an individual level, each of us can play a part by supporting local wildlife which may be under threat, as well as supporting wildlife on a national and/or global level through a variety of organizations. (Do your research to find out those groups doing the work that’s having the most direct impact.)
As well, we must do much more to educate people about the direct linkage between too much human population growth and the decline in all other living things. As the population of Homo sapiens has soared, wildlife had declined precipitously. Poaching is a tremendous threat to wildlife, but loss of habitat due to Man's appropriation of more and more of Earth’s land and other resources also is responsible for the tremendous loss of wildlife.
If we want to live in a world that’s populated by more than just the human being (a situation which wouldn’t last long), we need to work towards reducing our numbers (by lowering our fertility rates – only in a humane manner through education and female empowerment) and working towards a sustainable population which can provide a good quality of life for all – and that includes Earth’s flora and fauna.
Countries increasingly must turn to arms to protect wildlife from
well-organized and well-funded criminal poaching organizations.