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Global Wildlife Trade and why it is detrimental for species survival

Everyone with a slight interest in animals and nature has heard about illegal wildlife trade and why it hurts endangered species. But not all wildlife trade is illegal, a big part of it is actually legal and for decades this shameful practice has been defended by scientists, conservationists, and environmental authorities as being “beneficial” to wild species, as supposedly it helps deter poaching, and of course its illegal counterpart. This, however, and it has to be said, is probably one of the biggest “cons” in wildlife conservation.

This misconception has existed within the world of conservation for decades, probably ever since the foundation of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which came into force in 1975. CITES main function is to regulate the trade of ENDANGERED species of flora and fauna all around the world, supposedly to defeat the illegal trade, as by having a regulated and supervised trade within countries, as to “prevent” the overconsumption of animals parts, overhunting or the overtrading of wild animal across the globe.

Let’s be honest for a minute here and admit that CITES was created in order to satisfy human desire to consume wildlife and not actually to help endangered species. And the ultimate proof is that ever since its creation in the 70’s we have lost over 40% of the population of species on this Earth, and that number keeps on rising.

It’s a fact that wildlife trade is “the number one cause of animal extinction, tied only with land development”. Having a “legal” trade of wildlife has done absolutely nothing to prevent species extinction, it actually stimulates poaching and canned hunting, it also encourages the keeping of exotic animals as pets, along with other practices.

Thankfully though, more and more experts agree now that ALL trade has to be banned internationally. However there are many interests (human) at stake, many institutions and enterprises thrive because of wildlife trade, like zoos and aquariums, harming individuals and species just for the sake of keeping cages and exhibitions to entertain us. These places also claim to aid in wildlife conservation, but that is also a big con.

It has been proven, time and time again that zoos do little for wildlife conservation and even their captive breeding programs mean nothing for a species if their habitats can’t be protected and the animals can’t be released. And these places have played a big role in the decline of several species, like elephants, more specifically African elephants.

African elephants at zoos were not captive-bred. Most of them were born in the wild, captured, and sent to zoos and circuses all around the world. For capturing these babies, their families need to also be captured or killed. Unless they were part of a farm, as farms designed for the legal wildlife trade exist all over the world, where animals are bred for the sole purpose of being sold for human interests, or hunted down for fun. Still, not an acceptable practice.

Only recently have these dreadful practices been banned by CITES. But the harm has already been done and it cannot be undone. Many elephants have been sent to suffer in circuses and zoos all over the world over many decades, like Ely in Aragon zoo in Mexico City, or Nosey in the United States, where they have suffered the most terrible abuse and exploitation.

So many lives have been stolen for the sole purpose of entertaining and benefiting humans, and all under the guise of “conservation”.

What gives us the right? As a conservationist, I am ashamed of the colleagues and institutions that have allowed these horrible practices, and all just for money. CITES has never had the well being of nonhuman animals in mind and it never will.

However, I see a glimpse of hope when more and more conservationists and activists are raising their voices against these cons of conservation, and more importantly, helping the public get educated on these issues.

It has been a piece of cake for places like zoos and aquariums to prey on the public’s ignorance and sell cute and heart touching stories about helping conservation by “rescuing animals from gruesome lives and terrible fates in the wild”, like Africam Safari in Puebla did when they bought 9 baby elephants from Eden farm in Namibia. No rescue going on there, just good business.

Conservation has been a business for many years and that has to stop. As a conservation photographer, I believe in the power of educating the public by exposing the truth behind this business and how even science has been a silent accomplice so that people can demand change.

CITES has to go, we cannot have a last century convention advocating for still trading in wild animals while we’re going through the 6th mass extinction at an extremely rapid pace. It’s obvious that both legal and illegal wildlife trade has driven species to their dismissal and this has to stop. In order to actually achieve real, tangible, and long-lasting results in wildlife conservation, the trade in flora and fauna has to be stopped and banned permanently in all corners of the world.

There are options for humans seeking an income through nature that have nothing to do with harming living beings, like ecotourism. The mountain gorilla ecotouristic enterprises have proven successful in both protecting the species AND its habitat, and in providing locals with sustenance. It’s called coexisting and it can be done as long as big money interests stay out of the equation.

Educating the public and raising awareness is key to stopping the trade, exploitation, and killing of animals around the globe. The more we know about these subjects the better prepared we can be to fight against these injustices and to advocate for nonhuman animals.

Don’t be fooled when institutions claim practices such as the ones described in this article “help species conservation”, most of the time it’s a lie. If lives get hurt, then it is not and it will never be conservation.

- Tamara Blazquez Haik, International Campaign Director and Board Member of OneProtest.

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