Poaching To Extinction: Why?

Photograph: Morgan Trimble/AP

Photograph: Morgan Trimble/AP

The answer is clear enough: a profitable trade in products sourced from endangered animals. The sale of various animal parts is the prime reason why a minority of the human race may be on the way to poaching to extinction a number of species, the elephant and rhinoceros being two of the most iconic and obvious examples.

Those doing the killing are guilty of a vile deed, of course, but one may feel a touch of sympathy in the case of poor and uneducated individuals doing so to provide for themselves or their families – though not for the criminal gangs said to be involved in organising and distributing the spoils. Culpable too are the often wealthy people creating the demand – the customers for animal products bought for generally spurious medical benefits, or to use for personal or home decoration.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, actually lists over 5,000 endangered animal species (and, even more incredibly, 30,000 plant species). It aims to ensure, by agreement between governments, that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Click here if you want to know more about what it does.

The key word here is trade, and its regulation, as opposed to conservation by other means, and, as Matt McGrath says in a recent article for the BBC, CITES is not an organisation, it is a treaty – if it ‘succeeds or fails’, it is because of what happens at a national level to implement the provisions of the convention, in and of itself it can do very little.

So much for the good work being done at an international level. It’s helping to preserve biodiversity, but on its own it’s not enough; the phrase in and of itself it can do very little resonates rather vividly with me, as does Mr McGrath’s observation that its the only show in town.

On one (governmental) level that may be true, but can we let it rest there? Most would agree that the loss of certain species transcends normal processes, whereby extinction is a natural component of evolution. It may be subjective, and unfair to smaller critters, but for my money some creatures set themselves apart by their sheer magnificence.

It’s easy enough to feel helpless in the face of such complex problems, to conclude that it’s virtually impossible for any of us personally to make a difference, but it’s not true. The internet and social media have created unparalleled opportunities for us all to invoke the power of numbers.

If you agree that losing such animals would be a disaster, you may well ask: what can I do?

The first and most obvious action is to get involved with a campaign such as Save The Rhino.

Beyond that, we can all do some very simple, practical things to help, such as:

Not buying products sourced from endangered, non-farmed wildlife species, whether that be skins or products with claimed, though generally spurious, medical benefits.

And of course, if it’s possible where you live, don’t buy products made from ivory or rhino horn!

Ok, you may say, you don’t do any of those things now. But perhaps you live in a part of the world where products from endangered animals are sold, or you have relatives, friends or colleagues in such places? If so, why not try to educate them?

Ask them: do you really want to play a part in the extinction of the elephant or the rhino?