We have lost 52% of the world’s wildlife in the past 40 years. If this rate of decline continues, many species could be totally wiped out within our lifetimes.
Imagine a world without the elephant, the tiger or the rhino. The animals that fired our imaginations as we grew up could disappear for good.
Among other threats, the illegal trade in animal parts, meat and exotic pets is threatening some of our most beloved species.
It’s a global problem, requiring global solutions – and, unless we act now, it may well be too late, writes Craig Bruce, ZSL’s head of Asia conservation programmes.
It’s one of the world’s most iconic and best-loved animals; yet every 15 minutes – perhaps about as long as it will take you to read this blog – an elephant will be killed by poachers. Nearly 100 of these awe-inspiring creatures are slaughtered every day to supply the illegal ivory market. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Millions of other animals are being illegally traded each year to meet consumer demand for their meat, or for their body parts, to use in traditional medicines, status-symbol decorations or curios.
What we’re facing right now is absolutely unprecedented. In all the years I have been working in conservation, I have never seen anything quite like today’s demand. There have been occasional “spikes” in wildlife crime over the decades, but nothing on the current scale.
The illegal wildlife trade is now believed to be in the top five most lucrative criminal activities after counterfeiting and the illegal trafficking of drugs, people and oil. Along with other forms of exploitation, it is one of the biggest threats to the survival of some of our most endangered animals.
The growth of road networks and other infrastructure in previously remote habitats has only made it easier for meat, tusks, horns, pangolin scales and other animal parts to be trafficked. Meanwhile, the demand for such products continues to evolve.
Animal body parts have traditionally been used in Asian medicine, and it only takes one false rumour – for example, that rhino horn can cure cancer – to double demand for the product overnight. Many newly rich people in China are buying tiger wine or tiger skins as status symbols to demonstrate their wealth.
Many animals are being slaughtered faster than their species can reproduce. Last year was the sixth in a row that the African elephant death rate was higher than the birth rate.
With this kind of decline, we could easily see the last of some of the world’s most charismatic wildlife, including wild elephants and rhinos, in the space of our lifetimes – if not far sooner.
Read the full article in our members’ magazine Wild About. Or pick up a copy at our Zoo gift shops.
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