|| August 5, 2002 12:00 AM ET
San Antonio Express-News
Imagine your children and grandchildren growing up in a world where
they never will see elephants or tigers or rhinoceros. Or where
the only ones remaining live in zoos or circuses.
Unfortunately, that is not a farfetched possibility.
Especially in Africa and Asia, the two continents blessed with some of the most exotic animals on the planet, there has been an alarming decline of many species that once were abundant in jungles, plains, lakes or seas.
The saddest part is that man is responsible for the decline.
In Nigeria, the Associated Press recently reported, animal traders and poachers "have denuded forests and savannas of wildlife." One of the most prized catches is an ape, usually the endangered chimpanzee. Those creatures can fetch as much as $500 each at nearby public facilities, such as international airports.
In other nations, including India, Indonesia, Kenya and Tanzania, the rhino populations have been nearly wiped out. Only a major international effort can save the giant unihorned beasts.
The list of well-known animals hunted to dangerous levels is long, and it includes elephants, leopards, cheetahs and tigers.
Those animals are supposed to be protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora, an international treaty better known for its acronym CITES. But it is hard to enforce anti-poaching or anti-trafficking laws when exotic animals are the only source of income for many people in those nations.
The best way to fight poaching is to crack down on buyers and corrupt customs officials. Local populations also need to be educated about the importance of saving endangered species.
Every year in Kenya and Tanzania, for example, thousands of wildlife lovers, mainly from the United States, Europe and Japan, go on photo safaris in reserves such as the Serengeti or Masai Mara. As a result, tourism is the main source of foreign revenue for these countries.
At a time when even the most remote place on Earth is less than 24 hours away, ecotourism could become a large industry in many nations where endangered species live. Saving those animals not only helps preserve the ecosystem, but it could be a big boost for many local economies.