Conservationists Sound Antipoaching Alarm Delegates of Many Nations Meet in Florida to Take Steps to Combat a Flourishing Trade in Poached Goods, Fed by an International Consumer Boom and Communism's Fall

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 9, 1994 | Go to article overview

Conservationists Sound Antipoaching Alarm Delegates of Many Nations Meet in Florida to Take Steps to Combat a Flourishing Trade in Poached Goods, Fed by an International Consumer Boom and Communism's Fall


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


SOMEWHERE in the world today, a bear will be killed for its gall bladder, a tiger for its bones to be used in an ancient remedy. Parrots and other birds will be stuffed into cages for export as pets, sea turtles destroyed to make boots and shoehorns, a rhino slaughtered just so its horn can be carved into a dagger handle.

Such items are part of a $5 billion-to-$8 billion annual business in wildlife that experts say has decimated many species around the world and continues to do so despite efforts to crack down.

"Rhinos, tigers, Asian bears, and many other species are on the brink of extinction," says Steve Trent of the Environmental Investigation Agency, a private conservation group based in London and Washington. "The consumer boom in the European Union, North America, and the Far East is creating a black hole for endangered species."

Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., through next week, the 124 countries that make up the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are looking for ways to slow down the rate of poaching.

In force since 1975, CITES is meant to control trade in plants and animals and their products. There have been some successes. Export quotas and ranching have brought increases in some species of wild crocodiles. A 1990 ban on ivory trade, together with a crackdown on poaching, has helped stem the loss of African elephants, whose numbers plummeted from 1.2 million in 1970 to about 600,000 today. Enforcement hurdles

Still, CITES is without real teeth, critics charge. Many countries lack the will or resources for enforcement. And in some areas, reformers are dealing with thousands of years of practice and tradition.

This is particularly true of the Asian medicinal trade, which is largely uncontrolled and growing in such countries as China, Taiwan, and South Korea - and also in United States communities with large Asian populations, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu.

The World Wildlife Fund earlier this year reported the results of an investigation of such trade, which is estimated to total several billion dollars a year. The conservation group identified at least 600 different medicines produced by more than 100 manufacturers. Two-thirds of those medicines contained ingredients from endangered, threatened, or protected species - including rhino, tiger, musk deer, leopard, antelope, and bear.

"Thousands of species are used in traditional medicines," said World Wildlife Fund president Kathryn Fuller. "Despite international bans, illegal trade in those species goes largely unchecked in most parts of the world."

The fall of communism has added to the problem. In some game preserves in the former Soviet Union, according to Russian environmental activist Olga Maiboroda, game wardens whose salaries were cut have themselves turned to poaching.

In addition, adds Ms. Maiboroda, who came to the University of Montana for graduate study, "Poaching has been encouraged by foreign hunters who can offer hard currency. …

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