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Snakeskin Boots and Pet Parrots While Supplies Last- the Global Effects of Poaching


An artist’s rendition of poaching. Wikimedia

Introduction:


Poaching, or the illegal hunting or catching of animals that are not one’s own (Threats Facing the Amazon Rainforest, 2012) has become a global crisis. Originally only for survival by indigenous people of the Madre de Dios region, poaching has since evolved as a highly profitable industry.  Animals are hunted for food, the production of goods, displayed as trophies and are even harvested for their believed aphrodisiacal powers. It is considered poaching if the animal is both alive or dead. Animals are often taken from the amazon alive and sold into the illegal pet trade (2015). Overall, poaching is a huge problem not only in Peru, but worldwide.  


In order to combat the effects of poaching, many laws and regulations have been put in place around the world. The United States passed the “Global Anti Poaching Act” in 2015 (Dasgupta, 2015). The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is another step the world is taking to protect its wildlife. The agreement in place among most of the world’s governments aims to ensure that the hunting and trading of species does not threaten their survival.  CITES is divided into three appendices based on the level of the crime. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 2013).


Poaching  does not only affect Amazonian regions, but is a global issue that has yet to find a solution. With the extinction of animals due to poaching, the biodiversity in the world is decreasing.  This effects ecosystems directly, which in turn hurts the world’s climate (Schleeter, 2015). With the decrease of top predators, the entire ecosystem is distributed. The next trophic level explodes in number which in turn lowers the following trophic level. This domino effect continues all the way down the food chain. Poaching is not only occurring in the wild; people are going to great lengths to kill valuable animals. A parisian zoo was broken into for the sole purpose of poaching a rhinoceros (Forester, 2017). After this attack, Czech zoos are dehorning their rhinoceroses to protect them from poachers (Why a Czech zoo is dehorning its white rhinos, 2017). In the years since large-scale poaching emerged in the Amazon, wildlife populations have drastically declined, and biodiversity has rapidly decreased.

A rhinoceros affected by poaching. wikimedia.

History:


The area of Madre de Dios, which extends across southwestern Peru to the borders of Brazil and Bolivia, has a rich history of biodiversity that supported its inhabitants for hundreds of years.  

The Madre de Dios region of Peru. Wikimedia.

The isolated indigenous peoples (including the Mascho Piro,Matsigenka, Yine, and Nanti), collectively referred to today as aislados, used spears and naturally-occurring poisons to hunt birds, turtles, tapir, peccary, monkey, and deer (Anderson, 2016).  Hunting is not the only food source for the aislados, who are also skilled fishermen and gatherers. They  sustained themselves through poaching, but limited commerce ensured that this hunting is historically for survival (2016). The history of the Madre de Dios region is stained with periods of exploitation of commerce, first by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and then the rubber barons (caucheros) in the late 19th century (2016).  The discovery of rubber in Peru and its systematic exploitation, most notably by Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald whose name was given to a district in Madre de Dios, opened up the lush Amazon and its peoples to misuse for profit (2016).  These people were using the Amazon to turn a profit, while it should be respected and protected. This laid the groundwork for the poaching economy that has flourished in the decades since.


As the 20th century progressed, access to the natural resources of Madre de Dios increased along with poaching.  Global demand from the United States and Eurasian countries rapidly increased the size of the illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching market beginning in the 1970s (Pires and Moreto, 2016). During this time, Peru was complacent in the poaching and trading of its own wildlife, often selling animals for scientific research in the United States (Watsa “Policing,” 2015).  By the 1980s, Peru was the largest exporter of wildlife in South America, setting a dangerous precedent of normalizing the wildlife trade (2015).  Presently, the illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth most prosperous illicit trade behind arms, drugs, and human trafficking.  Endangered species in particular are widely sought after for their rarity and perceived economic value.  A study conducted by Peru’s National Forest and Wildlife Services over fifteen years found that  380 wildlife species (211 birds, 101 mammals, 47 reptiles, 17 invertebrates, and 7 amphibians) were exported out of Peru for global trade–with most of these species considered endangered (Tarabochia, 2016).  As a result of the trend and increased demand for fashionable rare parrots, internal wildlife trafficking within South American countries have begun to predominate.  Between 2007 and 2012, 80-percent of the wildlife trade observed in the hubs of Peru’s largest cities were trafficked internally to Peruvians (2016). This presents its own sets of challenges in terms of regulations because international anti-poaching measures have little jurisdiction. Regional governments with comparatively limited resources have been tasked with controlling widespread poaching of millions of mammals, birds, and fish from Amazonia.


It is estimated that 100,000 species become extinct each year globally due to human activity (Pires and Moreto, 2016).  The detrimental effects of the illegal wildlife trade are not confined to the animals, themselves.  The aislados have experienced widespread decline, due in part to the depletion of their food sources by illegal poaching.  Therefore, poaching is not only hurting the biodiversity of the Amazon, it is also indirectly Affecting the human race.


Current Status:


The low risk and high pay out nature of poaching causes it to catch the eye of many people.  In the recent years, illegally trading animals has gotten out of hand, and the planet it suffering the consequences. In 2015, the United States stepped in and passed the “Global Anti Poaching Act”. This legislation categorizes wildlife crime with illegal gun and drug trade. Its goal was to make strides forward in the fight against wildlife crime, causing the risk of poaching to outweigh the benefits. It provides national parks with more rangers to outnumber poachers and forces countries to adhere to international agreements about endangered and threatened animals (Dasgupta, 2015).

A pacarana, same species of rodent as Pepe Lucho. Wikimedia

While internationally, bills are being passed to protect wildlife, they do not have much jurisdiction locally. A majority of the animals being removed from the amazon are staying in Peru as domestic pets.  Peruvians are so passionate about their pets that they will fight to keep them when approached by law enforcement. One neighborhood violently protested when the government tried to confiscate an endangered rodent by the name of Pepe Lucho (Watsa, 2015).  The protest was so vicious that the animal was not taken into protection. Acts like these make this are preventing the jurisdiction from working effectively. Although there is a lot being done to put an end to poaching, people are still willing to break the law in order to make money.

Another advancement the world is making to protect its wildlife is the CITES agreement.  CITES, otherwise known as the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The goal of this agreement if for different governments to protect animals and plants from illegal trade that could completely eradicate their existence.  Everything from animal and plant trade, food products, wooden instruments and medicines are protected under CITES in order to prevent habitat loss and extinction. There are three different appendices, denoting the level of severity of the crime. Appendix I states that any animal threatened with extinction are only allowed to be hunted under certain specific conditions. Appendix II controls the trade of species that may not be threatened but will be in poaching continues at this caliber. FInally, Appendix III preserves animals that are protected in at least one of the CITES countries. However, CITES, lacks the judicial power to punish organized crime and is simply a trade agreement.  With the explosion of organized crime would likely lead to the end of poaching. (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 2013).


Effects:


The effects of poaching are beautifully stated in an interview with National Geographic and Juliana Machado Ferreira, a conservation biologist.


“For instance, imagine that we decide to withdraw from an ecosystem beautifully singing birds to be our pets. Now imagine that these birds prey on insects. If these birds are missing from the environment, the insect population is going to explode, and could become a pest to nearby agriculture. Their predators are also going to decline because their food is gone. Now imagine that these birds disperse the seeds of the trees in this ecosystem or they’re pollinators for other plants. With the birds gone, fewer new trees and plants will grow and the entire ecosystem is compromised.  Also, imagine that we are withdrawing from the environment the biggest, strongest, most beautiful birds. That means we are removing the birds with the genetic characteristics that made them attractive in the first place. So future generations won’t have those traits. Finally, if we are taking several birds from one species, we’re leaving behind fewer birds to reproduce. In time, the offspring will be more inbred, making the entire population susceptible to disease, which could even cause species loss.”(Schleeter, 2015).


Another effect of poaching is the spread of disease.  Many animals can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans upon contact. An example of this is the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Disease (SARS) in 2003.  According to scientists, SARS was spread from an animal to about 8000 people and killed over 700 of them.  The main culprit thus far is the Civet cat.  Known as a delicacy in China, this cat was avidly hunted for its meat. It is believed that this exposure lead to the outbreak of the SARS virus.  Taking no chances, the Chinese government demanded an extermination of all Civets.(Lovgren, 2003).


An endangered parrot due to the effects of poaching. Wikimedia

A third effect of poaching can been seen with the wild parrot population.  These birds have been especially hurt due to the industrialized and globalized poaching trade.  It is estimated that 80,000 to 90,000 wild parrots are traded domestically within Peru each year, but the monitoring and reporting of the realities of the wildlife trade remains extremely limited, with an estimated 3-percent of cases reported annually (Gastañaga et. al, 2010). Up until 1973, the trade of these wild parrots was perfectly legal and constituted an important part of the Peruvian economy at the time.  Many villagers still rely on the now illegal practice of harvesting nestlings for sale in markets in large cities, especially during the flood season where income from other resources like farming is more limited. Called loreada by locals, there is still an annual poaching of parrot nests in the palm swamps of Peru from February to April (González, 2003). One study conducted in the palm swamps of northeastern Peru near the village of Victoria found that parakeets, macaws, and amazons were the most commonly poached nestlings (2003). The poaching process for acquiring these nestlings was found to be highly destructive, with the nesting sites demolished often by cutting down the inhabited tree (killing the nestlings up to 50-percent of the time) (2003). This study found that these common poaching practices–which have been incorporated into the cultural fabric of certain groups despite their illicit nature, are not sustainable.  Macaws and amazons take long to breed, have small clutches, reproduce infrequently, and have many nesting limitations that make them extremely vulnerable to extinction. These practices, if continued at the same level, are not sustainable for these commonly-poached wild parrot species, and the methods of poaching are not sustainable for the local environments either.

An indigenous person. wikimedia.

Indigenous people are also feeling the effects of poaching. Encroachment on their territory, disease outbreaks carried by outsiders such as poachers, and exhaustion of natural resources are all consequences of the poaching market that have lead to the decimation of indigenous populations.  Conversely, some previously limitedly-contacted tribes have begun to enter society with varying degrees of conflict (Anderson, 2016).  Members of indigenous groups are even known to enter the illegal wildlife trade in an attempt to sustain themselves in an over-exploited natural economy.  The bushmeat trade and exploitation of primates–yellow-tailed wooly monkeys in particular is an example of this (Watsa “primates,” 2015). Hunters will often kill  adult yellow-tailed wooly monkeys for bushmeat to consume themselves or trade within villages.  Offspring captured during the hunt are poached for the pet trade and trafficked along common routes for sale in larger cities, providing the individuals with supplemental income (2015). This creates a snowball effect where more animals are poached which places greater strain on the local environment and those living in it, which in turn leads to more trafficking to make a living.


Novel Idea:

Ameliorating the issues of poaching both globally and within Madre de Dios will require a multi-pronged effort involving public education, regional and international enforcement of regulations, and promotion of a sustainable form of income for local peoples.  One of the most important aspects in halting the poaching of wildlife, especially in the Madre de Dios region is to educate the people of Peru on the dire nature of the Amazon’s biodiversity.  Pets and tourist sites like that of Pepe Lucho, which are condoned and even beloved by locals mask the true and destructive nature of wildlife trafficking.  In areas where owning birds are virtually woven into the cultural fabric of families, it may be necessary to provide legal and more humane alternatives to city markets where birds can be bred and sold without depleting wild populations and destroying habitats. The establishment of ethical breeders in the area may help to provide jobs for locals as well as pumping funds into the local economy. Visual campaigns, ones that show a struggling rainforest empty of its usual colorful birds, monkeys, and reptiles, may be effective in communicating the realities of wildlife trafficking.  There is a widespread misunderstanding about the abundance of wildlife left in the Peruvian Amazon, and public education is a necessary tactic that should be employed to help discourage and eventually end poaching.  Furthermore, the responsibility falls on the Peruvian government to protect its natural resources, and atone for the years of exploitation it undertook in the late 20th century.  Regional governments must enforce the wildlife protection laws already in place.  Authorities should not be easily swayed by public opinion.like they were in the case of Pepe Lucho. Instead, they should focus their efforts on halting the capture of wild animals in the Amazon especially in protected areas, and shuttering market stalls that peddle poached animals.  This hopefully avoids the conflict that comes with attempting to confiscate a family pet by ending the problem before it starts.  Finally, the indigenous peoples that once sustained themselves on the natural resources of the Amazon, and whose numbers have been in decline due to contact with Western diseases, prospecting and violent miners, and climate change, should be largely left to do so again (“First World Conference on Indigenous Peoples,” 2014).  Locals who have turned to poaching should be encouraged to pursue alternatives to supplement their income.  This may include the production of sustainable craft goods, plant cultivation, and other programs that can be outsourced to these individuals to provide families with additional income during the rainy season.  The encouragement of eco-tourism may also bring financial prosperity to local regions, allowing for the profit from the promotion of natural resources rather than their exploitation. The most important thing to target is the cycle of hunting, population depletion, and over-hunting.  Wildlife trafficking should be seen as a much more serious of a matter like the arms and drug trades, following the example of the global anti-poaching law passed by the United States.


Globally, ending poaching should also begin with public education. One of the largest demands for wildlife comes from the Asian medicinal market.  The use of animal products, especially those that come from rare and endangered wildlife, is believed to cure everything from heartburn to erectile dysfunction.  By providing individuals with more scientifically based information about what they are consuming, it is hoped that demand for these illicit goods will decrease.  The governments of countries where wildlife products are most widely consumed must take initiative to provide their citizens with science-based information regarding their health as well as establishing health centers in local communities. Harsher financial penalties must be prescribed for individual merchants and consumers who are caught with poached goods.  Alternatively, the rest of the global community may be able to withhold financial funding and increase trade tariffs until a minimum level of importation of poached goods is reached. Americans can take immediate action by lobbying their local government officials for higher trade tariffs on goods coming from countries that have high importations of poached goods to expedite this process. One of the most effective measures against global poaching, however, may be cracking down on worldwide organized crime.  Wildlife trafficking is often associated with gangs and international crime syndicates. Many of the rhinos poached for their horns and elephants for their ivory were killed by criminals importing their goods to gangs in Asian countries. Where CITES has been effective at limiting trade, to truly bring an end to poaching, a larger international effort must be made to shut down these crime rings.  This may be accomplished by motivating the head of law enforcement in countries where animals are most frequently poached to crack down on organized crime activity, handing out more stringent penalties for those involved, and making a greater effort to communicate with other countries to uncover trade routes and affiliated crime networks. Furthermore, the promotion of a sustainable and environmentally-friendly source of income, like eco-tourism or environmental stewardship, would also be helpful in other countries where poaching runs rampant. Organized crime feeds off of the exploitation of struggling individuals desperate to make more money. Again, by providing alternatives to this lifestyle while punishing the higher-level criminals, and may dissuade these individuals from entering the poaching trade in the first place.  It is clear that education, cooperation, and energy are required to put an end to poaching and save the biodiversity of the planet for the future.


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