Endangered Species Handbook

Print PDF of Section or Chapter

Projects

Trade

Project Summary
To better understand the international wildlife trade in live animals and animal products, focus will be placed on one or more major categories of the trade.  The major categories are:  whaling, fur, reptile skins, Traditional Medicine products, fisheries, wild pets (including cage birds, lizards, turtles, snakes and frogs).  Selection by a student of a species, group of species or general subject under one of these categories allows an overview that can be thorough and involve much research, or result in a short report.  A classroom project could involve a subject such as Traditional Medicine, in which groups of students would select individual species or groups of species, such as rhinos (killed for their horns), Tigers (killed for every part of their bodies), seahorses, snakes, turtles, monkeys and other primates and sharks.  The reports would be presented together.
 
Background
Trade in live animals, plants and the products made from them has caused extinctions and has pushed many to the edge of extinction.  At least 15 percent of highly threatened mammals and birds have declined as a result of trade, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (see Hilton-Taylor 2000).  Internationally, billions of dollars are earned legally and illegally, and each year, more species become exploited.  The trade is second only to the international drug trade in overall profits, worth an estimated $3 billion a year in protected live animals and animal products.  As soon as one species becomes rare from exploitation and receives protection, the trade switches to a similar one, pushing it into threatened status.  Much of this trade is for luxury products or to supply collectors and the wealthy who wish to own rare birds and other wildlife; wear the furs of endangered species, such as Snow Leopards or Cheetahs; purchase purses or clothes made from rare snakes or other reptiles; or consume luxury foods, such as endangered fish, whale and even Tiger meat.  The wool of the Tibetan Antelope, the Chiru, ivory from elephants, the caviar of the endangered Beluga Sturgeon, rhinoceros horn and live Spix's Macaws, captured for collectors of rare animals, are worth far more than gold.  The Traditional Medicine trade deals in a wide variety of animal products and plants and is a major factor pushing the Tiger, rhinoceros, seahorses and a host of other species toward extinction.  For the majority of species exploited for this trade, substitutes exist or the products are not effective remedies.  Ecological systems worldwide are being disrupted with the removal of predators and other keystone species, causing a loss of biodiversity.
 
This trade is taking place in spite of the landmark Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), enacted in the 1970s and now ratified by a majority of the countries in the world.  It places animals at greatest risk of extinction on Appendix I, which prohibits commercial trade, and threatened species on Appendix II, which limits or controls trade on a species-by-species basis.  CITES bans trade in species listed on either Appendix if the trade will be detrimental to the species' wild populations.  In practice, many species that are threatened with extinction and listed on CITES Appendices are traded illegally or in countries which lack national legislation restricting wildlife trade.  Although endangered spotted cat fur coats are no longer seen in New York City clothing stores, the fur trade continues to use the skins of rare cats and other wildlife, which are openly sold in many countries around the world.     Enforcement funding is inadequate in the majority of countries, even the United States, where only 10 percent of shipments are inspected.  Moreover, certain products, such as powdered rhino horn or Tiger bones, can be easily secreted in packaging while in transit.  CITES has been an important deterrent to trade in endangered species, however, providing many threatened animals and plants with needed protection.  Also, a growing number of countries have strict legislation prohibiting trade in protected species, including exports.
 
The methods used to capture and kill animals for the wildlife trade are often cruel in the extreme.  Steel-jaw leghold traps and wire neck snares that cause great pain and injury produce pelts for the fur and bushmeat trades.  Whales die from exploding harpoons thrust into their heads and bodies.  Frightened live animals are crowded into cramped, dirty cages and transported to pet shops and laboratories, suffering high mortality along the way.  Man's inhumanity to animals reaches an extreme in the wild animal trade.
 
Activities
o  Read the Trade chapter in this book and other sources referenced.
 
o  Select a subject among the following wildlife and plant trades for further
   study:
     - fur trade
     - whaling and sale of whale meat
     - sea turtles--trade in eggs, meat, shell and stuffed curios
     - fine wools--Shahtoosh from Tibetan Antelope and Vicuņa
     - bushmeat from endangered gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, turtles
         and other wildlife of Africa and Southeast Asia
     - fisheries products--sharks for their fins and meat and caviar,
        for example
     - reptile products for luggage, handbags and other luxury goods
     - wild bird pets
     - reptile pets, such as lizards, snakes and turtles
     - fish for aquariums
     - butterflies for collectors
     - plants, such as orchids and cacti, for collectors
 
   After reading about these trades in this book and other sources, write a
   report that discusses the following aspects:
     - How many animals or plants are estimated taken per year for this
       trade?
     - What species are they?  What is their status in the wild?
     - Where are the animals and animal products sold?  Are they killed or 
       collected in one country where they are protected and then sold in
       another?
     - What controls exist to protect threatened and endangered species
       traded?  Are they listed on CITES or the US Endangered Species List?
       Are they protected in their country of origin with high penalties
       for illegal take or killing, or are the penalties so low that there
       is an incentive to capture the species illegally?  In India, for
       example, wildlife smugglers and killers of Tigers and other protected
       wildlife almost never receive jail sentences or large fines, while in
       China, the death penalty can result from killing a Giant Panda.
    -  What profits can be earned from sale of these animals or animal
       products?  Find out the prices of expensive goods, such as Beluga or
       other Russian caviar, Shahtoosh and other items.
    -  What are the potential ecological effects of the disappearance of
       these animals?  African and Asian Elephants are keystone species,
       distributing tree seeds, creating water holes and forest openings
       that benefit their ecosystems.  Their disappearance from many areas
       has already had ecological effects.  Find other examples, such as
       Tigers, which are at the top of their food chain; monkeys and other
       primates who pollinate flowers or distribute seeds; birds caught for
       zoos and collectors, such as hornbills, who distribute fig seeds;
       or animals that are important food items for wildlife.
    
o  Traditional Medicine trade--a group project.  Based on the
     information in the Trade chapter and the references below, divide the
     class into groups and have each group select from the various species
     used in this trade, such as Tigers and other wild cats, rhinoceros,
     monkeys, seahorses, musk and other types of deer, snakes, pangolins,
     bears of all species and rare plants.  The information for each group to
     gather is the following:
 
       - What is the extent of this trade?  Are animals and plants being
         collected throughout the world to supply the trade?
       - What percentage is sold in China, other parts of Asia or in
         Asian pharmacies in other parts of the world?
       - What prices are obtained for these animals at the level of the
         captor, the local markets, exporter, importer and retail sales?
         What effect is this having on the species?  Will it become extinct
         if the trade continues at its present level? 
       - Is the trade legal in the animal's country of origin?  Is the
         species listed on CITES or banned from importation or exportation?
         Is the species openly sold in some markets?  Where and when?
       - Are there education programs that are trying to stop the killing,
         marketing and purchase of these species or the over-harvesting of
         rare plants?  What governments or organizations are trying to help
         these species through protection of habitat, bans on commerce or
         enactment of strong legislation to protect them?
 
o  Enforcement of existing legislation is crucial to protecting threatened and
   endangered animals and plants.  What state and federal laws ban the sale,
   killing and purchase of endangered species?  How is evidence gathered for
   wildlife crime cases?  How does CITES work?
 
o  Visit stores that sell animal products and live animals.
 - Fur and department stores with furs:  List the kinds of animals used to
   make the garments being sold.  It is required by US law that the species of
   animal and country of origin be listed on the label.  List the ranched
   animals, such as mink and chinchilla, and wild-trapped ones, such as lynx,
   beaver and raccoon.  Write down the number of coats and other garments of
   each type of animal, the date, the store and its address.  Neither
   ranched nor wild animals are humanely treated prior to their deaths.  Learn
   about the methods of killing of wild animals (types of traps, number of
   animals killed per country and US state) and the numbers and species of
   animals farmed.  Contact the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society
   of the United States and PETA for films that show the cruelty of trapping.
   Farmed animals are kept in tiny cages, where they become neurotic, and
   killing methods are unregulated.
 
 - Visit department and shoe stores to determine whether reptile products
   are being sold.  This trade kills millions of animals and threatens many
   species, as well as causing rats and other rodents they prey on to increase
   to pest proportions when too many snakes and other reptile predators are
   killed.  List the species from which the item is made, if possible.  Laws
   regarding labeling of reptile products are less strict than those regarding
   furs, and some do not list the species.  If possible,  determine if any
   endangered species are sold and how many items are being sold in your area. 
 
 - Visit pet stores to inventory reptile pets, such as iguanas, lizards,
   snakes and turtles.  Find out how many are wild-caught, what species and
   whether threatened.  Also visit pet stores to inventory their cage birds.
   Ask if the birds were taken from the wild or are captive-bred.  In the
   United States, wild-caught parrot imports are allowed only for a few
   breeders, and parrots in pet stores should be captive-bred.  Ask if the
   birds were bred in captivity.  Many finches and other birds are also banned
   from importation.  Obtain a copy of the Wild Bird Conservation Act and see
   if any of the species listed as “banned” are being sold.  If so, tell the
   store owner and report this to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Law
   Enforcement Division.  Contact the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
   for films that show the capture of wild birds in Senegal and Argentina and
   the cruelty involved in the cage bird trade.  If any pet store is selling
   primates, find out the species.  It may be endangered, as in the case of a
   Diana Monkey sold in a Long Island pet store a few years ago.  Primates do
   not make good pets and should not be purchased.  Many organizations receive
   unwanted primate pets to care for, after they have bitten their owners. 
   Ask your local pet store to avoid sale of live animals.  This is a trend in
   many pet stores that now sell only pet food, leashes, books and other non-
   living items.  Patronize such stores.  Contact your local humane society to
   learn of rejected wild pets and the difficulty in finding homes for them
   and recount these examples in a letter to your local newspaper, asking
   people not to buy wild-caught animals of any type.
  
o  Attitudes are crucial to the protection of native wildlife by the people
   living within their habitat.  Killing of animals for food and sale as pets
   has increased in recent years as international trade provides
   worldwide markets.  It has become all the more important for wildlife to
   be valued and protected by people living in their range.  Effective
   education is a key.  A program in Saint Lucia, an island in the West
   Indies, is run by Paul Butler, working for the organization RARE.  He
   has taught pride and appreciation of native wildlife and convinced the
   people living on the island to protect their native parrot, a species in
   high demand among collectors and numbering only a few hundred in the wild,
   as well as their forests and other wildlife (see reference below).  The
   smuggling of the St. Lucia Parrot has virtually stopped as a result, and
   its forest is now protected as the habitat for this national bird.  In
   the rainforests of the Congo, a Gorilla family being studied by a
   primatologist was filmed.  In order to acquaint local people with these
   animals, the film was shown to them.  They had considered these
   apes to be fierce, dangerous animals, worthy of being killed for the
   bushmeat market.  When they saw the tender affection among family
   members and the playfulness of the young Gorillas, they were pleased and
   surprised, saying "They are like us!"  They had the forest declared a
   protected reserve and now teach their children to protect these Gorillas.
   (This was filmed by Moses Films and shown on National Geographic Explorer,
   entitled "Living with Gorillas" in 2000.)  Write a report about the
   need for similar programs and find out about others being conducted to
   educate people about their wildlife.  Think of species that would benefit
   from such programs, and write a short summary of an education program you
   think would be effective for an individual species or group of species.
   For example, turtles are being heavily exploited for meat and the pet
   trade throughout the world, endangering many species.  If they were
   better appreciated in their native lands, especially Southeast Asia,
   where tradition and folklore hold them in high esteem, their future
   might be brighter.  Design a poster and educational brochure about Asian
   turtles that could be distributed in Viet Nam, Laos, China and other
   countries where turtles are being captured in enormous numbers.
 
o  While great profits can be derived from the sale of wildlife, even greater
   ones can come from tourism.  Elephants killed for their ivory bring the
   hunter a one-time profit of several thousand dollars, but tourism centered
   around elephants can benefit local people throughout the long life of the
   elephant, a life of some 60 years, totaling $100,000 or more.  The capture
   of rare parrots, likewise, is far less profitable than ecotourism, which is
   worth 100 times or more the value of their sale in the pet trade.  Whale
   meat is far less valuable than live whales that are whale watched.  Whale
   watching now earns $1 billion per year worldwide from the 9 million people
   who take part in excursions in almost 90 countries, according to the
   International Fund for Animal Welfare.  Think of other examples of non-
   lethal or non-invasive programs that benefit wildlife and ones that might
   be started to provide local people with income without harming wildlife.
   Another form of non-lethal business concerning wildlife involves the
   placement of videocameras in wild habitats, connected with the Internet.
   Internet users pay a small fee to see live views of the animal or scene,
   or to access the website for more films and information.  South Africa's
   national parks are profiting from such a system, and the potential is
   great for other such videocamera placements.  Videocameras can be solar-  
   powered, as engineered by Daniel Zatz in Alaska, who has placed these
   cameras near bear feeding areas, with the images sent to a museum in
   Washington state (seemorebears.com).  They also have the advantage of
   not injuring or invading the habitat of shy species which might be
   disturbed by large numbers of tourists.  Think of species that might
   benefit from videocameras in their habitats.  Examples might be wild
   parrots at their nests or Tigers filmed in national parks along trails.

Books and Publications
Films



Back
Chapters
Chapter Index
Search
Animal Welfare Institute
Next
    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute