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SOS Rhino : In the News : Black market animal trade threatens endangered species
 

Black market animal trade threatens endangered species

  The World Today - Monday, 1 August , 2005  12:26:00
www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/

Reporter: Tanya Nolan

ELEANOR HALL: Researchers who have been tracking illegal sales of wildlife in South East Asia for almost a decade are warning today that the lucrative black market trade is expanding unchecked, and that it's likely to force many endangered species to extinction.

In a book to be launched in Sydney today, Australian and Asian-based conservationists set out the findings of their seven-year long research project, which reveals that the trade in endangered animals is often conducted with the assistance of governments, and is usually closely linked to arms trading and drug running.

The international police organisation Interpol has valued the illegal trade in animals at more than $US 6 billion a year, and describes it as one of the fastest growing areas of international crime, as Tanya Nolan reports.

TANYA NOLAN: The unsuspecting rhinoceros makes its nightly trek through the familiar territory of the Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary, near Assam in northeast India. This creature of habit, with its poor eyesight, fails to notice the wire strung across its path which sends 11 kilowatts through its body, electrocuting it.

It's a sanctuary in name only - the 8 square kilometre area with 24-hour security patrols has the largest single concentration of Indian one-horned rhino in the world.

But with fewer than 3,000 left in the wild, and with horn fetching up to $US 25,000 per 500 grams on the black market, Sydney-based photographer and conservationist Adam Oswell says the temptation is too great.

ADAM OSWELL: It's surrounded by very large communities of desperately poor people. There's millions of dollars worth of rhino horn in that small area, so it's constantly got pressure on it. There are people going in almost daily trying to poach animals and get the horn out.

That'll go through to a middleman, somewhere in the local village nearby, and then that'll probably go to another middleman in Dimapur, or somewhere near the Burmese border, and it'll eventually find its way through Burma or India, into China, and then through to either Hong Kong, Taiwan or Japan, or Singapore, or any of the other large Chinese community in Asia.

TANYA NOLAN: The trade in rhinoceros is the most secretive, profitable and dangerous of all endangered species bought and sold on the international black market.

Adam Oswell and author Ben Davies found the scale of the trade hard to ignore - from the fish markets of Tokyo, where a stuffed polar bear was on display with a price tag of $US 11,000, to the bustling markets of China, where just about any species can be bought as a supposed tonic for any ailment.

But there is also a market for private collections which are expanding across Europe and in America, the largest consumer of exotic pets in the world.

Adam Oswell says off-duty military and police officers are often involved in trafficking, aided by corrupt politicians.

ADAM OSWELL: In countries where people don't make a lot of money, they're not concerned about killing animals, they just want to feed their family and make money. As far as government officials and influential people being involved, I mean, there's a lot of money in it. They have the power to do it and get away with it, so they do.

TANYA NOLAN: The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 95 per cent of the world's population of tigers has been wiped out over the last 100 years. With all its parts, an adult tiger can fetch up to $US 60,000 on the black market.

But the society's director in Thailand, Dr Anak Patanavibool, who is trying to get accurate numbers of the tiger populations in the country's huge protected forests, says it's the poaching of smaller prey that is posing the biggest threat to the animal

ANAK PATANAVIBOOL: I think that's quite serious. That's why in many national park or protected areas, like wildlife sanctuaries, it's becoming in the situation we call empty forest, we don't have large preys for tigers and the tiger becomes extinct. So that's happening in many protected areas in Thailand.

TANYA NOLAN: The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that more than 40 per cent of all animal populations in South East Asia will be lost forever by the end of this century.

While some countries like China, India and Thailand have been sporadically cracking down on visible signs of the trade, conservationist Adam Oswell says there's little political will to stamp it out.

James Compton, the Kuala Lumpur-based director of the group Traffic, which monitors the wildlife trade, sees the very real potential for the trade to occur legally and sustainably.

He says the convention on the international trade in endangered species or CITES offers the right forum for the trade to be regulated, but agrees sovereign nations need to be stronger on enforcement

JAMES COMPTOM: It gives countries legal access to international markets, and I'm talking here about species that are listed on Appendix II of the convention, which is essentially a management listing where you have every exporting country having to go through the process of what's called a non-detriment finding, so that they measure the impact of the trade on the wild populations to see that it doesn't have a negative impact, and then they can regulate their trade.

And then each importing country has to request an export permit from the producer country before allowing the import into the consumer market.

TANYA NOLAN: All agree that if policing of the trade is not improved, many dozens of endangered species are destined to join the growing list of those already extinct.

ELEANOR HALL: Tanya Nolan reporting.

And that book on the wildlife trade out today is called Black Market: Inside the Endangered Species Trade in Asia, and it's by Ben Davies and Adam Oswell.




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