Wildlife trade ‘creating empty forest syndrome’

The illegal trade in wildlife products around the globe risks creating an “empty forest” syndrome, a US researcher has warned.

Mongabay.com reports Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying that for many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting.

She made her remarks during a presentation at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, which Take Cover featured last week.

She outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Bennett added that pristine forests, although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet because the areas had been drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.

“Hunting has long been known as a primary cause of wildlife species depletion in tropical forests,” she explained.

But she added that the problem had increased exponentially in the past few decades.

Between 1992 and 2002, trade in wildlife has increase by 75% and showed no signs of slowing down.

The US researcher highlighted several factors that had prompted the rapid growth: rising populations; a steady decrease in forest cover, and remaining forests becoming more accessible; and more efficient methods of hunting.

For the last factor, Dr Bennett used the example of hunters in Cambodia using landmines to kill tigers.

However, the most important factor, she said, was the commercialisation and globalisation of the wildlife trade.

Increasing demand for endangered species from countries like China has led to more people trekking into their forests for incomes.

In addition, increasing wealth has allowed many more consumers to afford illegal items made from endangered species on the black market.

To give a picture of the scale of this underground trade, Bennett pointed a number of examples:

  • in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there are an estimated 1,500 restaurants selling wildlife meat
  • in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Pramuka market sells 1.5 million birds annually
  • a recent seizure of two shipments en route to China contained 14 tonnes of scaly anteater from Sumatra and 23 tonnes from Vietnam (the shipment contained an estimated 7,000 animals)

China is the world’s largest importer wildlife products, including an insatiable demand for turtles, ivory, tigers, pangolins, and many other species used for food or medicine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer. According to Dr Bennett, many tonnes of bushmeat arrive in the US from Africa every month, and the US is large destination for the illegal pet trade.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 19/01/2009

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