Animal poaching: Where do we stand today?

Poaching is the illegal hunting of animals. It happens in lots of countries around the world and is driving many species to the brink of extinction. In addition to killing for direct profit, poachers target animals to prevent them from destroying crops or attacking livestock. This happens to lions and elephants in Africa, as well as to wolves, coyotes, and other predators in North America and beyond. Some examples of illegal wildlife trade are well known, such as poaching of elephants for ivory and tigers for their skins and bones. However, countless other species are similarly overexploited, from marine turtles to timber trees. Not all wildlife trade is illegal. Poaching leads to the depletion of natural resources. The animals are a source of natural beauty and are vital natural resources. Continued poaching leads to depletion of these valuable natural resources, it is difficult to breed these animals especially if their species is reducing to poaching.

Polar bears
Rhinos

Wildlife crime is a big business. Run by dangerous international networks, wildlife and animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms. By its very nature, it is almost impossible to obtain reliable figures for the value of the illegal wildlife trade. Experts at Traffic, estimate that it runs into billions of dollars. Some examples of illegal wildlife trade are well known, such as poaching of elephants for ivory and tigers for their skins and bones. However, countless other species are similarly overexploited, from marine turtles to timber trees. Not all wildlife trade is illegal. Wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught or harvested from the wild and then sold legitimately as food, pets, ornamental plants, leather, tourist ornaments and medicine. Wildlife trade escalates into a crisis when an increasing proportion is illegal and unsustainable—directly threatening the survival of many species in the wild.

“Dream”

Top 10 animals that are closest to becoming endangered:

Rhinos:

The name Rhinocerous comes from two Greek words Rhino and Ceros, which when translated into English mean nose horn! It’s a very fitting name, don’t you think? Unfortunately, though, poaching for their distinctive horns is their biggest threat. They are used in Traditional Chinese medicine and displayed as a status symbol and demonstration of wealth. They are so highly prized that a Javan rhino horn can sell for up to $30,000 per kg on the black market. Because of this, three of the five species of rhinoceros are among the most endangered species in the world: the black rhino, the Javan rhino, and the Sumatran rhino. The Javan rhino is the closest to extinction with only between 46 to 66 individuals left, all of which are in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.

Gorrillas:

Gorillas are fascinating creatures that share 98.3% of their DNA with humans! They are capable of feeling emotions like we do and even behave like us sometimes – did you know they can laugh? There are two species, the Eastern Gorilla and the Western Gorilla, and they both have two subspecies. Three out of four are Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The only one that isn’t is the Mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla, which is considered Endangered. At the time of writing (June 2020), there are only around 150 to 180 adult cross river gorilla left in the wild. Like many endangered animals, their decline is mostly due to poaching, habitat loss, disease, and human conflict. Gorillas are also slow to recover as they have a low reproductive rate, meaning females only give birth every four to six years. One female will breed three or four times in her lifetime.

Sea Turtles:

Next on our endangered species list are sea turtles. Two species of sea turtle are critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Hawksbill turtles and Kemps Ridley Turtles. Leather back sea turtles are classified as Vulnerable, though the population is decreasing and several subpopulations are facing extinction. Hunting is one of the biggest threats to sea turtles, with poachers targeting their eggs, shells, meat and skin. They are also at risk from habitat loss, bycatch, and pollution as well as climate change. Sand temperature determines the sex of hatchlings with eggs developing as females in warmer temperatures. That means even small temperature changes could skew the sex ratio of populations. Furthermore, breeding beaches could disappear underwater with sea-level rise.

North Atlantic right whale:

It was whalers that gave the North Atlantic right whale its name. They are gentle giants that stay close to coasts and spend a lot of time at the surface skim feeding on zooplankton, all of which makes them an easy target and the ‘right whale to hunt’. They were almost wiped out by hunters after their meat and oil-rich fat known as blubber, and are now one of the most endangered large whales. There are currently only around 400 of them left, and only about 100 breeding females. They are now protected, and hunting is illegal, but population recovery is slow. Females don’t breed for the first ten years of their life and then will give birth to a single calf every six to ten years.

They are still very much at risk of extinction, with boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear some of the biggest threats. Vessel traffic also creates noise that interferes with their ability to communicate. Whales use sound to find mates, locate food and avoid predators, as well as to navigate and talk to each other. It really is an essential sense. Finally, climate change and changing sea temperatures may affect food availability, which will have a knock-on effect on survival and reproductive rates.

North Atlantic right whale

Amur Leopard

Unfortunately, Amur leopards are one of the world’s most endangered big cats. They are as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and between 2014 and 2015, there were only around 92 Amur leopards left within their natural range. That number is now estimated to be less than 70. Like all species on our endangered list, humans are their biggest threat. Their beautiful coats are popular with poachers as are their bones which they sell for use in traditional Asian medicine. They are also at risk from habitat loss due primarily to natural and human-made fires. Climate change is also changing Amur leopard habitat and leading to a decrease in prey availability.

Time is ticking and people must make a stand to prevent animal poaching. Here are some key points to how everybody can get involved and help in the global crisis.

Have you ever thought that we are the problem, and also the potential solutionWe have the power to stop animal extinction, and we must act now. Everyone can make a change, small may it be, to protect not only the animals, but the whole environment (including ourselves).

1. Buy Eco-Friendly Products

Work for more environmentally friendly (or at least more environmentally conscious) habits. First of all, beware and be aware of what you buy, and what you use. Always avoid buying potentially damaging products for the environment: avoid large corporations’ products that involve resources and processes which have a harmful impact on the animals – and especially on the endangered ones. This also applies to cosmetics: avoid products made by companies that test their products on animals. Remember: we must stop animal testing, they don’t know the answer! When buying, you must read the labels on the packaging, in order to make sure the production process of that item did not involve any animal testing, nor environmentally dangerous practices. Also, always make sure the producer company of each product you buy, work in an environmentally sustainable way – being it food, clothes, or its packaging in general. This will help in saving animals’ habitats, especially those of endangered species. In doing so, you will prevent animal extinction.

2. Follow The 3-R Rule: Recycle, Reuse, Reduce

Separate and treat the discarded solid waste of the manufacture of new products. Come on, get creative! Recycle paper and cardboard, plastic, metals, glass and all the rest: you will be able to create new, fantastic objects. Plastic waste is a potential threat for the environment, and this includes its accumulation on the Earth surface. Beside being a powerful pollutant for the environment as a whole, it can negatively affect wildlife habitat –  whether in the ocean or amongst nature. The Recycling rule, applies especially for the products you buy. Make sure the packaging of your purchases (as well as its content) is made from recycled materials. Look for the special logo, and carry on with your purchase only if you see it! Also, have you ever tried second-hand products? If not, you should make it up: give it a try. It could be key in slowing down animal extinction. The 3-R rule also applies to a more sustainable life in general: every small energy-saving change can have a huge impact on the health of threatened animals. For example, by reducing the carbon footprint you may be able to help the environment, and improve your health at the same time.

  • Replace light bulbs, switching to energy saving ones – such as fluorescent bulbs (if you can’t find them in supermarkets, which seems really odd today, online shopping can help). In fact, fluorescent lightbulbs can work by using less fossil fuel than conventional lightbulbs.
  • Use a laptop instead of using a desktop computer when possible: laptops consume up to 5 times less!
  • On your bike!? Bike to work instead of driving. And guess what, you won’t only reduce air pollution, but this will also have a positive impact on your wallet, and on your health.
  • When leaving home, or at nighttime, make sure you turn off the heat and unplug the electronic facilities you have. Switching them off is not enough: you must unplug your laptop cords, your television, your phone charger, and even the kettle and the toaster in your kitchen. Did you know that even if you are not actually using these electronic gadgets, they still sap energy, just by being plugged in?

By following these tips you will be able to save not only energy and money, but you will also save the life of many endangered species.

3. Don’t Buy Souvenirs Made From Endangered Species

If you do so, you are not only risking a fine, you are also increasing extinction rates. Stay away from products made from endangered (but also still-not-so-endangered) species! I see, you would really love to buy some iconic souvenirs on holiday, maybe to remind your family and friends the gorgeous places you visited – like a tropical beach or a South African Resort. But even if it doesn’t seem so, by making that purchase, you are actually increasing extinction rates (besides supporting illegal trading in poaching of wildlife!). These products are filled with cruelty and pain, for the animals who suffered in the production process. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions and billions of dollars each year. And if on the one hand it is mostly controlled by criminal gangs, it is also very much supported by the hundreds of millions of people going on foreign holidays and buying this type of souvenirs. These items include materials such as tortoiseshell, ivory, reptile skins, furs, coral. Also, try to step into the animals’ shoes: have you ever thought that no one else needs a fur but a tiger? And, that no one else needs a rhino horn but a rhino? Or, that no one else needs a tortoiseshell but a tortoise?

4. Eat Less Meat

Be greener! We are literally “eating our way to extinction”. The meat industry is not only damaging farmed animals, but also wild ones – and especially the ones in danger of extinction. Studies warn that meat-eaters are actually speeding worldwide animals extinction. By killing them, we are killing ourselves Our appetite for beef, for dairy, for fish is wiping out animals, and even threatening our own survival. “You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot”, says geophysicist expert Gidon Eshel, in order to make people realise the full impact of meat consumption on biodiversity. Beef, dairy, and fishing industries are today the leading cause of extinction. This also connects to the loss of habitat due to land clearing, but also overfishing and pollution. First, the vast majority of land clearing is to graze cattle for the meat industry, and to raise crops to feed farmed animals. Can you imagine that currently almost one-third of our planet’s surface is used for these purposes alone, and that this trend is even increasing? This is crazy. Almost 80% of former Amazon forests are now used for grazing cattle for meat. By doing this, we are not only destroying the natural habitat of countless animals, but we are also destroying the ‘lungs of the Earth’, and as a consequence our own life. For what concerns fishing, the greatest extinction danger is over-exploitation: in other words, we are fishing them to extinction in order to satisfy our needs. In addition, many experts have explored the links between modern livestock production and other issues such as climate change and pollution; which eventually lead to animal extinction. For example, animal agriculture is responsible for almost 15% of climate emissions on a world scale, more than all the cars, trains, and planes. Meat-eaters are supporting the unsustainable production practices of the meat industry, and as a consequences they are speeding worldwide species extinction rate. We must change the way we eat and produce ‘food’: the current situation is having a catastrophic impact on almost all animal species across the globe. Every meal counts By eating less meat – whether one day a week or one meal a day – you will lower your dietary carbon footprint and take a step to protect wildlife. If you change your eating habits, you will change the agricultural food market. This will result in more sustainable industries – because the meat demand-supply relation will be changed forever. It is simple: if you don’t demand, they won’t produce. A plant-based diet (or at least a diet which involves reducing the amount of meat and fish you eat) is one of the easiest, yet stronger ways, to use our planet’s resources more responsibly, and protect animals at the same time. In addition, plant-based food uses less water, have a lower impact on the environment, and guess what…it’s delicious.

5. Spread Awareness: get involved

Talk to your family and friends. If you can’t convince them to change their habits, at least try to warn them, and make them more aware of their actions. Start by spreading the advantages of buying eco-friendly products, of eating less meat, and of buying souvenir-greeting-cards when on holiday! Last but not least, be a voice for endangered species on social media: share posts, reels, tag your followers. Social media are also a great way of getting informed, and eventually, take more direct action. Stand for animals! together we can stop animal extinction.

Mass extinction seems a long way away, but actually, it is just around the corner. And even if you don’t care about endangered species, and you don’t love animals (which is basically impossible) this is not an excuse to sit back and watch. You still must act. In fact, if endangered species actually become extinct, many serious consequences will follow.

In short biodiversity is not just important because animals are nice to look at (although, if you are an animal lover, this is a bonus point to convince you!)…But beyond their beauty, each of these animal species is part of a whole system.

If you remove one part of the system, the system is no longer in balance, and will eventually collapse. In the long run this will lead to the extinction of every single species, including the human one.

We must stop this terrifying ripple effect because our own survival is at risk. Nature, and the ecosystems of plants and animals that live within it, is literally what is keeping us alive.

And this is why you should care about animal extinction.

Written and published by Lauren Burger