Designer Poaching Up, Messenger Shot

An interesting piece on increased wildlife trade in today’s New York Times.  It is useful to know that rising incomes in Asia are increasing wildlife trade.  But there is a bit of a bait and switch here:  We get very concrete data on the income rise in China from a Credit Suisse study but we get none on wildlife trade.  It would have been a better story if the author had included concrete data to support the proposition that the animal trade is on the rise.  Instead she writes: “Figures are hard to come by, as only select species can be closely monitored. But here are a couple of examples to illustrate the scale of some the population declines…”

Data on illegal trade is not “hard to come by,” it doesn’t exist.  No one is even close to quantifying the illegal wildife trade, including for most “select species.”  It is a fact that needs to be told explicitly and it is just one of the symptoms of our ineffective global “system” to combat wildlife trafficking. 

Glossing over the questions Who is poaching, Who is smuggling, Who is buying, What species, and On what scale inadvertently takes advantage of the problem in order to publish a wildlife story but does not contribute to a solution.  Even the marginal contribution to awareness here (we all knew extinction was a problem, just maybe not so Asian) is outweighed by the pile of wildlife bodies already lying dead in America’s consciousness.   Rare animals are being trafficked to extinction.  We get it.  We’ve gotten it since, as the reporter notes, the 1970s.

It is not enough to present Big Problem, Grisly Annecdote anymore.  As messengers, journalists need to step up to this problem with more of the whole story, even in a short piece like this one.   Pretend the illegal animal trade problem is a cocaine trafficking story and you’ll be able to see whether a news report enlightens or piles on. 

I also have a problem with this para:

The problem, experts say, is often not a lack of top-level political will. Many Asian countries, like those elsewhere, ban the trade of rare plants and animals. Rather, the problem is enforcement on the ground and growing demand from populations that are often simply not fully aware of just how endangered the creatures they are consuming are.

The problem in most countries is exactly lack of top-level political will.  Anson Wong’s case is a perfect example.  It was not until top level politicians, including the minister of natural resources and environment, took interest in Wong’s case and the problems in the Wildlife Department that changes were made, even though changes were also made in the law.  Failure of law enforcement is most often a failure of political will:  lack of funding, lack of prioritization, lack of staff all derive from insufficient will at the top to curb trafficking.  Since I’m on a rant, and feeling lousy about taking a report whose intentions were admirable to task, I’ll disagree with the last sentence in the para., too:  many are eating rare wildlife exactly because it is rare.

As Incomes Rise, So Does Animal Trade

Published: December 19, 2010
Conservation projects have helped preserve individual species, but over all the trade in rare creatures has grown not shrunk — thanks largely to rising demand from an increasingly affluent Asia…

“I’ve been doing this job for close to 20 years,” said Chris R. Shepherd, who helps oversee Traffic’s Southeast Asia operations, “and I can say it’s never been anywhere near as bad as it is now.”

In the 1970s, when international conservation efforts began to take off, the issue was one of largely niche demand from wealthy consumers in the West. Now, however, the picture has changed radically.

Read the rest of the article


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