Overview

Endangered species openly displayed and for sale in Mong la, Special Region 4, Burma/China border. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

Endangered species openly displayed and for sale in Mong la, Special Region 4, Burma/China border. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

This initiative is a response to an issue of enormous international concern. The rapid speed with which more and more species are being critically endangered is something that must be urgently addressed. However the scale of developmental problems within Asia is such that the plight of the regions wildlife has been marginalized. For local communities struggling to feed and educate themselves, wildlife extinction is a peripheral concern. This has also made it imperative for governments in the developed world to not only take an interest in the alarming state of wildlife depletion, which also directly effects the viability of forests‚ but to adopt an active role to support wildlife conservation.

DSC_7136

Asiatic black bear being rescued from wildlife traders on the Thai/Burma border. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

From the pristine jungles of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia to the great national parks of Australia, India and Nepal, wildlife is being plundered and trafficked on an unprecedented scale. Booming markets created by globalization and the ease of smuggling has boosted this trade to new and uncontrollable levels. The scale is enormous. According to the latest official estimates, the worldwide black market trade in wildlife is worth more than US$10 billion per year‚ exceeded only by the illicit international trade in drugs and arms. A significant part of this lucrative trade comes from South East Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Bear poaching with military helicopter in the Russian far-east.

Bear poaching with military helicopter in the Russian far-east.

It is estimated that wildlife traders export 25,000-30,000 primates every year – along with 2-5 million birds, 10 million reptile skins, and more than 500 million tropical fish.

The exploitation of wildlife is centuries old. Thirteenth-century Cambodia boasted thriving markets for tigers, panthers, bears, wild boars, stags and gibbons. China has long pillaged the animal world for its supposed medicinal benefits, and today remains one of the trade’s biggest players. With the arrival in Asia of European colonialists, and soaring demand from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the killing has steadily risen to the record levels we see today.

06_overview_nepal_DxO

Royal tiger hunt. Nepal, circa 1905.

Some animal parts have been imbued with near-magical properties. Superstitious Chinese believe eating the flesh of a tiger will give them some of the animal’s strength, while tiger’s penis is highly prized as an aphrodisiac. Countless other animal parts – rhinoceros horn, shark fin, bear gall, monkey brain – have been credited with similar potency. Scientific studies have proved these beliefs wrong, yet the trade of animals continues largely unchecked, fueled by myth, ignorance, greed and corruption.

The regions rich bio-diversity is also suffering a full-blown assault on its wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. In some areas rare animals are being hunted down illegally to fund guns and explosives procurement for militants conducting guerrilla operations against local and federal governments.

Wildlife trade is now so large it could have irrevocable consequences for life on our planet. More and more species now stand at the verge of extinction. The disappearance of keystone species disrupts critical food chains, which in turn affects the balance of nature. In India, environmental abuse and the annihilation of animal life has turned lush jungles into empty deserts. Similar nightmare scenarios are being played out across the globe.

Orangutan in private zoo, Bangkok, Thailand. The trade in great apes is prevalent in Asia to supply theme parks and tourist attractions. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

Orangutan in private zoo, Bangkok, Thailand. The trade in great apes is prevalent in Asia to supply theme parks and tourist attractions. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

Attempts to halt the animal trade have so far been too little, too late. One problem is catching the traders, many of whom are known to anti-trafficking authorities, but who operate unhindered due to official corruption and inertia. Small-time operators – usually impoverished locals forced into poaching and trading wildlife on the black market – are caught and jailed, but the powerful syndicates remain and continue to operate. Using a complex web of companies and agents to conceal the true nature of their business, smugglers every year successfully transport thousands of bears, small monkeys tortoises and rare birds from the rich forests and jungles of Asia and Madagascar to‚ collectors and consumers‚ in the developed and developing world.

Young tiger at a tiger farm near Bangkok, Thailand.

Indochinese tiger cub in trade, Thailand. Copyright 2015 © Adam Oswell

The problem seems insurmountable. Education, awareness and effective enforcement is crucial to secure the viability of bio-systems along with the removal of antiquated and false beliefs about the potency of animal parts, thereby decreasing the demand for them. Remove the consumer and develop effective enforcement and we are one major step closer to stopping this destruction, our future depends on it.