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Asia Being Plundered of its Wildlife through Organized Crime to Fuel Multi-Billion Dollar Industries
Of all the things that are done for the love of money, this is one of the saddest. Some of our world’s rarest animals are being illegally traded in covert operations. The most notorious dealers have methods of covering up their illegal plundering of wildlife by disguising their illegal businesses with business operations that look legal. They perpetuate this type of criminal activity by having a front business that poses as doing activity that is in line with the laws, while selling animals that have been illegally smuggled in covert operations.
According to an article in National Geographic Magazine titled “Asia Wildlife Trade” there is a system of underground trade of endangered species that is taking place. The demand for these rare animals has become such a lucrative venture for these poachers, that it has resulted in what has become a great incentive for organized crime in the area of wildlife smuggling.
The most notorious of these smugglers is Anson Wong, who is very astute at this type of organized crime and has been very difficult to arrest, due to his ability to hide the true nature of his business dealings. Even after his arrest, his wife and business partner established a new company which exports wildlife to the United States, even though Anson was in prison and he was banned from selling animals to anyone. Despite being banned Anson’s company still continued to ship animals. It’s apparent that even after being arrested the operations of these smugglers do not cease to do business.
In our world it is impossible to find a single species on the planet that hasn’t been traded legally or illegally. These species are traded for their meat, fur, skin, song or ornamental value. These creatures are sold as pets or ingredients in perfumes or medicines.Every year China, The United States, Europe and Japan, which are the five most prosperous parts of the world financially, purchase of billions of dollars of wildlife from biologically rich parts of the world such as South East Asia.
According to National Geographic Magazine the operations for smuggling these rare animals are organized in the following manner: The operation begins with poor hunters and farmers, which are paid a small sum to capture the animals. Many of these people are poor and in desperate need of money, therefore, they are willing to do anything for a small fee, even break international laws. After the animals are caught, they go through various channels that are disguised as legitimate business transactions, yet are designed to plunder wildlife.
Most of this wildlife ends up on banquet tables and medicine shops in Asia. The economics are very simple and straightforward. The rarer the item the higher the price, which is bad news for endangered species, which are dying in record numbers. The incentives are so great, due to the lucrative nature of this business. The profit margins are the kind that drug king pins would kill for.
The smugglers cover themselves by hiding their illegal business in legal shipments. They manage to bribe wildlife and custom officials and they alter trade documents. Few ever get caught and the penalties for those that do get caught are minimal. This has become the world’s most profitable form of illegal trade.
The Smuggler's greatest advantage has been their ability to exploit a loophole in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which has 175 countries as members and is the primary treaty to protect wildlife. These are categorized into three groups:
- Appendix I: Animals such as tigers and orangutans, which are considered close to extinction are banned from commercial trade.
- Appendix II: Less valuable animals may be traded under a permit system.
- Appendix III: Other animals are protected by national legislation of the country that added them to the list.
The CITES treaty has one gaping exception: specimens bred in captivity do not receive the same protection as wildlife. This treaty is meant to protect wildlife; therefore it does not cover rare animals bred in captivity.
This has created an argument for the proponents of captive breeding, since they can justify their practices of breeding animals in captivity and thus satisfying the commercial demand for these animals. This they claim helps in protecting wildlife from poachers, and decreases crime because these animals are being bred in captivity and this takes the pressure of the wildlife population.
This could be a very profitable business for those willing to commit to farming wildlife. The problem is that these policies are only enforced in some countries, and not in others. What smugglers do to take advantage of this loophole in the CITES treaty, is to establish fake breeding facilities, and then they falsify their business endeavors by claiming the wildlife that they poach illegally have been captive bred. This was one of the techniques that Anson Wong, the world’s most notorious reptile trafficker, used in his covert smuggling operations and one of the main reasons he was so hard to arrest.
The illegal animal trade is another example of how greed creates problems for not only humans, but other species as well. The only way to deter these individuals would be to create less of an incentive for poachers to smuggle. When you buy, try to select products that are cruelty free. Try to buy fabrics that are natural fibers, which are grown not killed. Try to eat cruelty free as well. If a rare delicacy is from an animal from the endangered species list, don’t eat it, or purchase it.
Money is what fuels this type of criminal behavior, therefore the best way to send a message to these criminals is to not purchase products that are in any way related to illegal wildlife trade. Remember, we all live in this planet, along with many varieties of life. Let’s protect what we have; because once an endangered species is killed of, it is irreplaceable. For the sake of future generations let’s protect our precious wildlife!