We all love marveling at the beautiful and exotic animals that can be found across the globe, but unfortunately, there are a select few people who like to do more than just admire from afar. The illegal wildlife trade has become a serious problem over the decades, and this not only endangers countless species of animals but also threatens the ecosystems that sustain life on Earth. Let’s dive into the dark underbelly of the illegal wildlife trade to discover its roots as well as some potential solutions to the problem.
Loss of Biodiversity
One of the major threats of the illegal wildlife trade is the fact that trafficking in wildlife can throw the delicate balance of nature out of order. Every animal - from the mightiest lion to the tiniest beetle - plays an important role in the structure and flow of their environment.
Removing too many of any of these creatures from their natural habitats can be disruptive to the ecosystem overall. Shifts in the population of only one species can wreak havoc on the food chain and have far-reaching consequences for a multitude of animals. An overpopulation of predators could lead to an extensive loss of prey populations, and on the other hand, the poaching of carnivores could lead to an unbalanced surge of herbivores that overgraze the area.
Threats to Endangered Species
Another major issue to be aware of in this regard is the endangered species of our planet. There are countless species of animals, birds, and marine life that are already teetering on the edge of extinction, and the illegal trade is pushing them closer and closer to the brink.
The illegal poaching and harvesting of any animal can, of course, diminish their numbers significantly and push them towards extinction both locally and even on a global scale. African elephants are probably the most well-known species that have been affected by wildlife crime - human beings have all but obliterated their population over the last few decades. So many other animals are affected by this and are regularly poached and killed for their horns, pelts, and other body parts.
Zoonotic Disease Transmission
Believe it or not, it’s not only the animals that are suffering in this cruel game of wildlife trade. Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, and the illegal wildlife trade has played a notorious role in the transmission of illnesses like HIV, Ebola, SARS, and it is speculated - even COVID-19.
When wildlife is removed from its natural habitat and transferred to an unknown environment, there’s a chance of that animal spreading diseases to the other creatures in the area, as well as to humans. There is a large portion of the illegal wildlife trade that is related to meat sold for consumption, and this is where serious public health risks come into play.
Social and Economic Consequences
As you might’ve noticed, crime against wildlife stretches beyond environmental risk and bleeds into even social and economic territory. Naturally, as a crime, this behavior is often associated with massive organized crime syndicates that exploit local communities and engage in serious corruption that has a domino effect on social structures in affected areas.
Not only this but there are local communities that rely heavily on their wildlife. Beautiful and exotic animals and plants contribute to ecotourism, which can sometimes be the main source of income for a particular community. Some of these communities might even rely on these animals for more direct forms of sustenance. Naturally, the loss of endangered creatures can hit society harder than we might have ever imagined.
Solutions to Combat the Illegal Wildlife Trade
Fortunately, this is not a lost cause, and there are things that we as communities and individuals can do to fight back against this frightening phenomenon.
Strengthening Legislation and Enforcement
Of course, what we’re dealing with here is a crime, which means that laws and legislation need to be implemented seriously. Governments need to get involved in the protection of their animals, and anti-poaching laws need to be attached to more impactful penalties and punishments.
Demand Reduction and Consumer Awareness
Raising awareness is another important factor here. Far too many consumers are unaware of the consequences of their purchases and, further, make these purchases based on unfounded claims surrounding medicinal value. Alerting more people about the ethical, environmental, social, and economic effects of their actions can drive change and reduce the demand for products like ivory, rhino horn, and other animal parts.
Finally, getting local communities involved in the fight is essential. Conservation efforts will be bolstered when the people directly affected are allowed to take charge and contribute more, and having more allies in the process will help to save more animals’ lives. We can also protect our animals by donating to conservation organizations and other wildlife protection causes in the areas closest to us, and closest to our hearts.