Quantcast
Animals
Ryan Moehring / USFWS

What Does the World Need to Understand About Wildlife Trafficking?

By John R. Platt

At first glance rhinos, pangolins and jaguars don't seem to have much in common.

But there are a few things that link them. For one thing, they're all targets of poachers and smugglers, who traffic in their body parts and threaten the species with extinction.


For another, all three species have benefited from the hard work of Rhishja Cota, founder of the wildlife advocacy organization Annamiticus (named after the extinct Vietnamese Javan rhino).

From her home base in Tucson, Ariz., Cota travels around the world in her quest to protect these and other species from wildlife trafficking. She's pushed for improved enforcement of existing laws and helped to educate the public about issues related to imperiled species. Cota has also authored hundreds of articles about conservation, as well as a special field guide to help customs agents and other enforcement issues identify pangolins and their body parts, which have become the most heavily trafficked animals in the world.

As Cota prepared to leave for Geneva for this month's meeting of the Animals Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), she spoke with us about her latest efforts to protect imperiled wildlife and what the world needs to do better to prevent these species from falling into extinction.

You organize the annual World Pangolin Day. How far do you feel pangolin awareness has come since you launched this in 2012, and how much further do we need to go?

I have a soft spot for the underdog and so launching World Pangolin Day has been one of the most rewarding projects of my wildlife career.

It is fantastic to see that World Pangolin Day has grown into a global event which is now recognized by pangolin people all over the world—local on-the-ground conservation programs, schools, artists, big international NGOs , as well as high-profile institutions such as the United Nations (CITES), USAID and the IUCN.

Pangolins are listed on CITES Appendix I, which bans international trade, and of course are protected by national laws throughout their range. In my opinion, providing education and training to help "first responders"—law enforcement and customs officers—work collaboratively is critical for protecting pangolins. Additionally, the courts need to treat wildlife crime cases with the utmost seriousness. Wildlife crime is organized crime, not an "animal rights" issue.

You also recently launched plans for World Jaguar Day, to be held June 11, 2019. What inspired this, and what do you hope to accomplish in the nearly one-year lead-up to the first event?

I have been following the global wildlife trafficking crisis for about 10 years now. I can't say I was at all surprised when illegal trade in jaguar teeth and bones surfaced and was linked to the famously insatiable Chinese demand for big cat body parts.

As a resident of the Tucson, Arizona, area, the jaguar's in my backyard. I believe if we shine the spotlight on the jaguar—let the rest of the world know that the biggest cat in the Americas is facing the same threat as tigers and lions and leopards—maybe we can get ahead of the situation before it gets out of control, like it has with tigers.

Plans for the 2019 launch of World Jaguar Day were hatched in April of this year, actually. Then in May, I attended the Madrean Conference here in Tucson and spent a day immersed in the state of the jaguar.

What really struck me is the approach of treating jaguars throughout their range as one population—including the United States. We need to stop saying "a few remnant individuals in the U.S." According to the jaguar experts at the Madrean Conference, where there is one male jaguar, there is a female jaguar.

In the lead-up to World Jaguar Day, we will be profiling innovative jaguar conservation programs and educating the public and the media about jaguar issues. We will be digging into the unsavory issue of jaguar trade and publishing our findings.

We're looking forward to providing a launching pad for jaguar conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts, big-cat fanatics, NGOs, zoos, schools, the private sector and individuals to celebrate the iconic jaguar.

What other species are you focusing on at the moment?

Like I said, I go for the underdog and as such, I'm taking a very close look at opportunities to help freshwater turtles and tortoises.

Looking at the broad world of wildlife trafficking, what progress or potential progress excites you the most lately?

Wildlife crime needs to be dealt with on par with other types of organized crime. I think that is starting to happen. Meaningful jail sentences are handed down more frequently than say five years ago, and I know that there are multiple law-enforcement training initiatives happening in Asia and Africa that are focused on wildlife crime.

What do you wish more people understood about the impacts of trade in wild species?

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the media still runs with stories about "legal trade will save the species" and "farming wildlife to meet demand" and "selling stockpiles to fund conservation" without doing proper research, particularly on the law-enforcement challenges. The notion of supplying captive-bred species to commercial markets has been proven time and again to have a disastrous effect on wild populations, including tigers, bears, crocodiles and ivory stockpiles, to name just a few disasters. There is an abundance of literature on this topic, and certainly no shortage of wildlife trade policy experts—real experts, not wildlife breeders or pro-trade advocates—available for interviews.

In my opinion, when media outlets publish information that suggests legal trade, wildlife farming or selling stockpiles are options for saving wildlife, it can harm the efforts of legitimate wildlife conservation organizations. When we are dealing with something as delicate and finite as wildlife, media and communications professionals should strive to educate the public, not confuse or hoodwink for the sake of a headline or more clicks.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
A family wears face masks as they walk through the smoke filled streets after the Thomas wildfire swept through Ventura, California on Dec. 6, 2017. MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

How to Protect Your Children From Wildfire Smoke

By Cecilia Sierra-Heredia

We're very careful about what our kids eat, but what about the air they breathe?

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Hero Images / Getty Images

Study: Children Have Better Nutrition When They Live Near Forests

Spending time in nature is known to boost mental and emotional health. Now, a new global study has found that children in 27 developing nations tend to have more diverse diets and better nutrition when they live near forests.

The paper, published Wednesday in Science Advances, provides evidence that forest conservation can be an important tool in promoting better nutrition in developing countries, rather than clear-cutting forests for more farmland.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Navy torpedo bomber spraying DDT just above the trees in Goldendale, WA in 1962. USDA Forest Service

Maternal DDT Exposure Linked to Increased Autism Risk

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Thursday found that mothers exposed to the banned pesticide DDT were nearly one-third more likely to have children who developed autism, Environmental Health News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
Significant cupping of leaves from dicamba drift on non-Xtend soybeans planted next to Xtend beans in research plots at the Ashland Bottoms farm near Manhattan, KS. Dallas Peterson, K-State Research and Extension / CC BY 2.0

Top Seed Companies Urge EPA to Limit Dicamba

Two of the nation's largest independent seed sellers, Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the spraying of the drift-prone pesticide dicamba, Reuters reported.

This could potentially hurt Monsanto, which along with DowDupont and BASF SE, makes dicamba formulations to use on Monsanto's Xtend seeds that are genetically engineered to resist applications of the weedkiller. Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, as well as other companies, sell those seeds.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Baby son in high chair feeding father. Getty Images

Baby Food Tests Find 68 Percent Contain 'Worrisome' Levels of Heavy Metals

Testing published by Consumer Reports (CR) Thursday found "concerning levels" of toxic metals in popular U.S. baby and toddler food.

The consumer advocacy group tested 50 nationally-distributed, packaged foods designed for toddlers and babies for mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to journalists outside the White House West Wing before attending a Trump cabinet meeting on Aug. 16. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Zinke Announces Plan to Fight Wildfires With More Logging

The Trump administration announced a new plan Thursday to fight ongoing wildfires with more logging, and with no mention of additional funding or climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group. Wangan and Jagalingou

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

By Noni Austin

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia's failure to protect their fundamental human rights.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Jones Gap State Park in Greenville County, South Carolina. Jason A G / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Victory for Clean Water: Court Reinstates Obama WOTUS Rule for 26 States

A federal judge invalidated the Trump administration's suspension of the Clean Water Rule, effectively reinstating the Obama-era regulation in 26 states.

The 2015 rule, also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS) defines which waters can be protected from pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act. It protects large water bodies such as lakes and rivers, as well as small streams and wetlands.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!