Wildlife experts favour science to counter trafficking

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Cartagena (Colombia), July 27 (IANS) Illegal exploitation and trade of wildlife is a globally recognised problem and the solution to check its menace lies in science, wildlife experts have said.

“If we are going to fight organised crime, we have to be organised in our response too,” Latin America Wildlife Trafficking Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society Adrian Reuter said.

Science could help measure the scope, scale and impact of illegal wildlife trade, map illicit networks and assess the effect or impact of social marketing and other interventions designed to reduce demand, he added.

Over 40 scientists working on illegal wildlife crime in Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin and North America convened on the sidelines of the International Congress for Conservation Biology in this Colombian town to discuss how to better leverage science to combat illegal wildlife trade, both within countries and across international borders.

Scientists from universities, conservation NGOs, international organisations and national governments began to identify new opportunities to bring the full spectrum of scientific knowledge to bear on the problem.

Reuter said most of the beautiful and colourful birds from the South America, like the macaws, are heading to the Asian countries.

“Most of the trafficked birds are made physically disabled before trafficking. Ninety-nine per cent of the parrots are smuggled as chicks. In most of the case the smuggled birds remained disabled throughout their life and the rescued birds can’t be reintroduced into nature,” Reuter told IANS.

Meredith Gore, Associate Professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University, said the scope and scale of illegal wildlife trafficking today is unprecedented.

According to Gore, illegal wildlife trafficking is a crime that can converge with other serious crimes such as drug trafficking.

Globally, illegal wildlife trade is often framed as a security issue that converges with other serious and often transnational crimes such as those relating to drugs, guns and human trafficking.

Countries like the US, Peru China, Mozambique and Britain have passed or bolstered existing legislation designed to enhance efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade and reduce risks to security.

“It is nice to see the scientific interest of the society on this issue,” said Alex Diment, Senior Technical Advisor on Myanmar, with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Tackling the illegal wildlife trade will require a deep understand ing of human behavior, both of the poachers that engage in the supply side of the trade, and the consumers that drive the demand for wildlife products,” said Diogo Verissimo, David H. Smith, Conservation Fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

Most of the trafficked wildlife is heading to China and Vietnam where the market in traditional medicine is huge.

Hebert Cheung of the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science with the University of Queensland said there is a big demand for the body parts of the African rhinoceros in China and Vietnam.

He said in Vietnam the demand of a horn of rhino is quite varied. It’s used for health tonics, and making decorations and artifacts, besides its use in traditional medicine.

“There should be efforts to tackle the illegal trade of the rhino horns in the demand and the supply countries,” Cheung told IANS.

As per estimates, over 1,300 African rhinoceros — black and white — are poached every year.

And, the scientific interest is strong.

Criminologists, computer scientists, geographers and social marketers voiced a willingness to share data, collaborate on problem solving, and use new methods for communicating science with decision makers, the experts said.

They said reductions in biodiversity from illegal wildlife trade could have other substantial negative human health impacts, including the loss of potential sources of pharmaceuticals, experimental models for studying disease, crop pollination, and micronutrients for humans lacking alternative sources of protein.

(Vishal Gulati is in Cartagena for the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network Biodiversity Fellowship Programme at the International Congress for Conservation Biology. He can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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