Africa is home to many of the world’s most iconic species and rich ecosystems. However, the trade in wildlife and its derivatives is increasingly degrading the continent’s nature reserve. It is estimated that approximately 1.6 trillion wild animals are killed and suffer from the actions of people each year. The illegal wildlife trade continues to pose a real danger to biodiversity, ecosystems and human health.
This year’s session of World Wildlife Day, celebrated under the theme “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”, aims to draw attention to the conservation status of some of the most endangered species of wild fauna and flora. The event will also fuel discussions to imagine and implement solutions to conserve them. This is in line with United Nations (UN) Goal 15 which talks about the need to protect life on earth.
Data from the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” (CITES) shows that between 2011 and 2015, 1.5 million live animals and 1.2 million skins were been exported for the exotic pet trade. Exotic pets are animals that have not been domesticated and still possess their wild traits.
Dr Patrick Muinde, Research Director for World Animal Protection, Africa, explains the need to end the wildlife trade and protect Africa’s rich habitat and biodiversity. He further warns that if the trade continues, the situation could lead to the extinction of these wildlife stocks across the continent.
Besides the people who use wildlife as food and a source of income, there are many other factors behind the wildlife trade. Most countries import wild animals for medicinal and health purposes. For example, the traditional Chinese medicine industry uses rhinoceros horns, lion skulls, among others, for their products. This increases the demand for animal parts and thus promotes the wildlife trade.
Recently, people have engaged in illegal activities involving wildlife. A typical example is an endangered pangolin that was taken hostage by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The rebels demanded a ransom from conservationists for the release of the animal. This raises fears that wildlife could be used as bargaining power in the future.
Additionally, people keep exotic pets in their homes for a variety of personal reasons. While some find it fanciful, others think they would be associated with a certain class when they have certain types of animals in their care. Animal skin is used to make rugs, seat covers or even hung on the wall to represent a certain belief or status.
Trophy hunting is another driver of the wildlife trade. This is when people come to Africa and pay to kill animals such as elephants, lions for selfish ends.
The internet and social media are further encouraging the wildlife trade. People participate in online market activities by posting videos of animals and their products. Interested people who visit these sites may like and want to buy them.
The commercial chain, from capture to transport of wild animals is cruel. According to Dr. Muinde, the animals are kept in sterile, crowded conditions with little or no space to move around. This leads to increased injury and death of wild animals.
Traders neglect the welfare needs of captured animals, such as providing enough food and water to transport them to various destinations. Even in their destination countries, the owners of these animals do not have the necessary information about the security needs of these animals.
As part of the UN Strategic Goals (2021-2030) to ensure animals live free from cruelty, the UN is working to transform the global food system. This objective is to ensure that farm animals live well.
The UN is also taking steps to change the systems that encourage shipments to prevent wild animals from being cruelly exploited as commodities.
“Let us remember our duty to preserve and sustainably use the great diversity of life on the planet. Let’s push for a more caring, thoughtful and lasting relationship with nature” – Antònio Guteress