5 ways you can help civil society end the illegal wildlife trade

Asia is a key hub for the illegal wildlife trade. Asian Development Bank sustainable development and climate change consult Maria Cristina Tabing highlights how individuals can help protect critically endangered species.

Less than 4,000 tigers and around 2,800 Sumatran elephants remain in the wild. The number of Java rhinoceros are fast diminishing, and only 60 are left. All of these critically endangered species are in Asia. 

The illegal wildlife trade—the hunting of wild animals for their meat and body parts like the elephants’ ivory tusks, leopards’ skin and whiskers, and rhinoceros horns sold supposedly for medicinal, food or ornamental purposes—is causing this alarming rate of decrease, and the smuggling operations are believed to be based in this region.

ADB supports efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade in its developing member countries via initiatives like the Law, Justice, and Development Program that facilitates the Asian Judges Network on the Environment.

Through the Global Environment Facility’s Global Wildlife Program, ADB collaborates with WWF, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and other agencies to promote nature-based tourism as well as agriculture, forestry and natural resources management projects that benefit local communities to protect wildlife.

 As a member of the Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development, ADB also helps strengthen cooperation between development partners for biodiversity conservation.

While these efforts do slowly help restore populations of some of the endangered species, stopping the wildlife trade remains challenging for several reasons.

First, wildlife protection laws and enforcement need strengthening to deter smugglers, for whom the huge profits outweigh the low penalties. For instance, 1 kg of ivory can fetch over $2,200, but in some Asian countries convicted poachers are sentenced to just one month in prison. 

Second, local authorities are often ill equipped to deal with transnational organized crime. A few park rangers with small handguns can face an army of smugglers armed with heavy weapons and night-vision goggles.

Third, poverty lures people to commit wildlife crimes, and most local poachers are desperate for cash.

Finally, consumer patterns have not changed, and many people still see a leopard-skin bag as a fashion statement, buy Bengal tigers as pets, and believe that rhino horns cure cancer. More information will help fight this crime.

Consumer patterns have not changed, and many people still see a leopard-skin bag as a fashion statement, buy Bengal tigers as pets, and believe that rhino horns cure cancer. 

Here are five ways you, as a member of civil society, can help combat the illegal wildlife trade:

  1. Be aware. Information today a just a click away. Learn more about the critically and endangered species, and understand the issues surrounding them.
  2. Educate your family and friends on wildlife protection laws in your country. Wildlife protection laws exist and are enforced in many countries like India, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
  3. Say no, and take action. Do not use products derived from wildlife trade. Check the ingredients of the products you buy, and make sure they are legally supplied. Do not buy products made from or formulated with wildlife body parts like ivory, fur, and shells. If you are buying pets, make sure they are legally documented.
  4. Report wildlife crimes to your local law enforcement agency. Download and use Wildlife Witness, the first smartphone app for global community action that allows residents of or travelers to Asia to easily report wildlife trade using a photo, pinning the incident’s exact location, and sending it to the illegal wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
  5. Get involved. Donate to or join advocacies for tougher laws and policies against the perpetrators. Find time to share, like, and follow pro-wildlife advocacies on social media.

It is our responsibility too to protect wildlife and maintain the balance of nature.

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