Illegal Wild Animals Trade In Southeast Asia

January 24, 2010
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Southeast Asia, being the only region which enjoys special tropical monsoon climate, is known for its amazing biodiversity, especially animals that can be not found elsewhere. However, settling in an area with a dense population, these admirable species are being endangered by illegal wildlife trading. Among all criminal activities in Southeast Asia, this is considered the second most lucrative, only after drug trafficking (Haribon Foundation). Poverty in the countries in the area has led a lot of citizens into the world of trafficking in order to feed the continuingly climbing demand for wild animals; which are hunted for four main reasons: as food, medicine, forms of trophies and pets (National Public Radio). In effort to stop illegal wild animals trade from proceeding and getting worse, actions need taken immediately in terms of restricting the laws. More importantly, public awareness of the problem highly must be raised.

Since most of the Southeast Asia countries are LEDC (less economically developed countries) except Singapore, money has become the greatest motivation for people to commit the act of selling wild animal, both within one country and overseas. Comparing the GDP per capita of Indonesia at US $1,650 (World Bank) with the price of a Komodo dragon up to US $30,000 on black market (San Francisco Chronicle), it is no surprise why they are tempted to get involved in this enormously profitable business, particularly when so many people are appealed by wild animals and products from them. This, combined with loose laws in ASEAN countries, makes illegal wild animals trade in Southeast Asia more cruel and acute than anywhere in the world.

One major factor that causes animals to suffer is that they are seen as not only a kind of food but a speciality in regional countries, the kind of speciality that is only for the rich, the sophisticated and the high-ranked in the society. Restaurants which serve but wild animals' meat are not rare to be found around any tourist spots, particlulary those near forests. Monkey, tortoises, pythons, porcupines and various other species are sold at a special price, and to patrons only, this case appears extremely popular in Vietnam. Possibly the fact that in the past these courses used to be the executive domain for royal families has given the citizens the idea that eating them makes them noble; it is also a way to impress peers with their wealth and power and a mean of "enjoying life" as wildlife dishes are protein-rich and tasty. Their shockingly wide range of taste is expressed through the popular regional saying: "We can eat anything with four feet except the table. We can eat anything in the ocean except submarines. We can eat anything in the sky except planes" (Wild Singapore). Wildlife meat is shipped cross-border mainly between countries and consumed by local people although Macau, China and Hong Kong are also significant consumers.

Also based on social norms, wild animals are hunted for their medicinal value. Most of them, though, are nothing more than vague and completely untrue mouth-to-mouth myths. For instance, rhino horns are scoured superbly in Asia black market where they are traded at a price higher than gold! The reason for it is partly because rhino horn is perceived as a symbol of masculinity and strength in some Asian countries, listing Yemen, Indonesia and China; moreover it is believed to have the ability to cure certain illnesses whilst the sad fact is it has no such benefits since the it is made of keratin, the same thing in human fingernails (Bangkok Post), so are the medical effects of bear gall and pangolin scales. Nonetheless extreme ignorance is still being adopted, and numbers of wild animals continue declining dramatically for the ironic purpose of "saving human's lives".

Miserable wild animals in Southeast Asia, like those everywhere else, suffer from the fierce hobby of human being: collecting trophies. Rhino horns, deer horns, furs of animals, mostly big predators are seen as "little" pieces of memories for some keen hunters. Considering a bigger scale and more common situation, souvenirs made from elephants' ivory, corals are displayed in souvenir shops explicitly, challenging the governments despite the obvious fact that they are unlawful, and yet it appears that no action is being taken to stop them.

The demand to own pets as wild animals is like the straw that broke the camel's back, turning illegal wildlife trade into a delicate act to serve a form of pleasure of the rich. The most notorious place to look for a pet in the region might be the Chaktuchak weekend market in Bangkok, Thailand, where Burmese pythons, star tortoises, primates, flying squirrels and tiny, brightly colored birds are all on sale (National Public Radio).

Due to all these above reasons, illegal wildlife trade has been resulting in dramatic decline in Southeast Asian wildlife biodiversity. Out of its 64,800 known species, at least 1,300 are endangered. ACB (The Asian Centre for Biodiversity) suggests that in 2000, Indonesia accounts for about 29 percent of global exports for snake and lizard skin (newflash.org). It is hard not to admit that certain kinds of animals are disappearing there, which means they will soon disappear from the world as the region is their only home, and that will have been brought about by illegal trade.

Despite seeming implausible to achieve, efforts are being, and need to be put in the battle against illegal wildlife trade, both in implementing force and education methods. First, laws must be adapted and restricted but also fully and understood and accepted. Numerous meetings have been launched to bring the regulation into action. In November 2005, Thailand invited officials from the ten ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members, together with China and United States to a special four-day workshop to design the framework of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN). Accordingly, inter-agency and inter-governmental commitment to the task of standing up against wildlife smuggling is vital to the real efficiency of all possible strategies (Monster and Critics). It encourages the cooperation between CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and the collages from the police force. A good establishment or re-establishment of national and international wildlife crime taskforces, combined with the increase in enforcement capacity against wildlife crime, which at the moment remains too loose in ASEAN countries, will factually contribute to the job of getting rid of cross-border crime (Wildlife Alliance).

The latter way to diminish the horrible effect of wild animals smuggling in Southeast Asia is by raising public awareness. Souvenirs campaigns, enhanced by impressive slogans and posters at tourist spots in Vietnam have shown their positive effects on making tourists actually think before buying a wildlife item or a wild animal as a pet on their holiday (traffic.org). Another good example is during Olympic Beijing 2008, the campaign in which Olympic fans were advised to avoid endangered wildlife souvenirs could be considered a solid success not only because Olympic is a global sport event that attracts everyone's attention but also because China has always been Southeast Asia's largest consumer in this cruel business (America.gov). In the whole, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) such as CITES and WWF are evidently engaged in all positive strategies because the only way to successfully make illegal trade stop flowing is to make people stop buying and desiring for them.

Southeast Asia has the full right to be proud: in spite of taking up only three percent of the earth's surface, it contains the natural habitats of up to 40 percent of all living species (newflash.org). However, with human's far-fetched, ever-increasing greediness, the profound, fruitful biodiversity is suffering from incredible damage that leads to the dying out of wild animals which might, in near future, only live in books and nostalgia. Therefore, Southeast Asians are condemned to act while we still can. Undoubtedly, we are universally supported, thus I have the reason to strongly believe we can give a hand to stop illegal wild animal trading to preserve the natural beauty of one of the most wonderful lands in the world.





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