Thursday, 20 March 2008

Talk about the regional wildlife trade

Spent the end of the last workday of week listening to Chris Shepherd from TRAFFIC SEA share about a bit of his work and the effect of wildlife trade at this talk that was held at SBG. It was a full 1.5h presentation by Chris but he managed to keep me attentive for the entire session. Well done!

There was a little intro that was accompanied by pictures of many many dried geckos, semi-dissected mammals, bear paws etc. And a glimpse into the world and daily lives of the team of dedicated individuals from TRAFFIC as they do a bit of espionage in tracking down dealers of illegal trading (this part reminds me of the excitement and scariness of agents that try to bust drug trafficking, and am pretty sure many of the problems and issues they face are similar to that of illegal wildlife trade), as well as the capacity building aka training for local law enforcement units, and getting countries to strengthen their national laws on wildlife trade. Signing CITES is one thing but actually incorporation CITES guidelines and rulings into national laws and all is another....

To quickly sum things up, the main drivers aka push factors for wildlife trade are (1)medicine and superstitious beliefs, (2)the pet trade, (3)furs and skins, trophies, stuffed figures, and various other novel decorations/accessories, (4)for zoos, birdparks, and aquariums (shocking but true, some actually get the bulk of their animals through the shadier routes), (5)for mass releases.... Think I missed out some but these should be the main ones. With these in mind, it really is pretty much a fauna focused trade rather than a flora one since things that are large and move (thinkg tigers and elephants and slow loris) are way more charismatic than say a plant. Big money involved here and weighing the cons of illegal wildlife trade against those of drug trafficking, it's small wonder why so many animals and plants are still being shipped around the world in so many crazy ways. It really gets bizarre.... Especially when Chris started talking about the innovative ways traffickers hide their loot, especially when using air transport.... The tighter the security that these folks need to pass through, the more inventive they get....

What do I mean? How does hiding eggs in pantyhose that's somehow stuffed in you underwear sound? One fellow even got caught because one of the eggs hatched and the critter started making noises! Not gonna put any more examples here, so as to avoid giving people crazy ideas about how to smuggle some cute animal back from one of their overseas trips. Interesting to hear how forthcoming some of the petshop owners are when Chris goes around doing his surveys of what species are in the shops and how many etc., seems like people wanting exotic pets is pretty much run-of-the-mill for them, eh?

And how does Singapore fit into all of this? Given our strategic position in SEA (as we all get drilled about in social studies), it is not suprising that there is quite a number of shady movements of wildlife through our airport. International airport with many flights and many linkages between high demand countries like China and USA, and supplier countries in SEA. Momentary urges come at this point to join customs so as to get my hands dirty to nab these bad fellas who subject animals to crazy conditions when moving them in BULK from one country to another.... Despite my anti-affinity for reptiles of the slithering kind, seeing photos of the behind-the-scenes stuff makes my blood boil.

Besides, being ordinary people not living in the world of TV dramas, nabbing dealers is way outta our league. So what can we do as consumers? Firstly, we can reduce the demand for this poaching and trafficking of wildlife (whole, processed, or otherwise). Basics of economics, right? No demand, so no need for supply. Especially for medicinal products made from like deer, tiger, horns etc., as well as jewellery and other souvenirs made from animal parts. Secondly, when buying pets, know what you are purchasing. What species it is, is it protected under CITES, and where the petshop is getting their animals from. Doing a little more backgrounds research on your potential pet would probably do more good than harm since you also have more info on hand to *hopefully* make a better decision on whether you can manage a LONG TERM commitment of having a pet. Releasing an animal back into the "wild" (as defined by you) is likely NOT to be the best thing for you ex-pet or the animals already living in that habitat or area. Thirdly, you can spread conservation messages by sharing with family, friends, and love ones about being pro-active consumers. Do stop and spare a thought for where something comes from before going ahead with a purchase just because it is appealing at the point in time... Hopefully we can be even more creative than the dealers and traffickers in doing our part in curbing illegal wildlife trade. Remember, every little drop would help fill up a bowl, no matter how large it is!

How I wish Chris Shepherd would have talked to us while we were taking the conservation module back at NUS. Would have tied in nicely against the gloom-and-doom picture painted by our two profs by letting us know about some of the more positive changes in legislation and management of such trades... Anybody who wants to hear more about the talk and all, please feel free to IM me, visit the TRAFFIC homepage or even drop an email off to the folks at TRAFFIC.

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