Whose fault is it, anyway?
We see it almost daily: reports of another animal poached in North America, Europe, or Africa, typically for trophy or import, with gut-wrenching images to match.
The moment bile begins to rise in the collective "throat" of massive communities of people who are vehemently against poaching, wildlife trafficking, and trophy hunting, the torches and pitchforks are immediately taken up as "arms" against a larger, much more convoluted issue plaguing the globe today.
It's the decline of the world's wildlife, and few of us actually know who to blame.
Let's take a look at a few fast facts:
- the African Lion is extinct in 7 African countries
- approximately 35,000 African Elephants are killed every year for ivory
- there are less than 5,000 wild tigers remaining
- nearly 50,000 black bears are killed in the US each year
- more than 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins
- over 5,000 have been slaughtered across the US since mid-2017
In the event anyone thought Canada was exempt from such aggravating statistics, don't worry, because some Canadian governments are totally on board with the mass culling of bears and wolves (despite the lack of convincing evidence that such culls are necessary).
Many may be quick to blame poachers, smugglers, traffickers, and hunters for the radical decline of many wild species, and they'd be correct; all of these activities not only decimate wildlife populations and contribute to the decline of food chains and ecological systems. However, it would be dangerous to place blame solely upon the shoulders of people who take advantage of the lax laws and corruption which allow such decimation to continue.
Across several African countries, the average annual income per capita is only $400. Trophy hunting contributes less than 3% of revenue to many local/rural communities in Africa, with only 1.8% of revenue from the "sport" contributing to the overall tourism economy of Africa. Poaching, trophy hunting, and trafficking do not help mitigate poverty in Africa, nor do they contribute to species preservation across all species. In North America, the decline of keystone species at the hands of both the US and Canadian governments is extremely disconcerting, but most are tempted to blame the hunters rather than the governments.
Why is that?
If we consider the poaching and trafficking epidemic rampant across the globe - it's ignorant to assume only African countries poach and traffic wildlife - it is far more convenient to blame (and kill) poachers and traffickers, despite the fact that they do not make the laws which allow them to poach or traffic. It's easy, for example, to blame seal hunters in Canada for slaughtering thousands of adult and infant seals for the fur trade, but what about the federal government doing nothing to prevent it? A 2014 study conducted by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada found that 86% of the species with high risk levels remained at those same levels or deteriorated, despite calls for consideration to re-list or list properly the declining species. If this appears shocking, keep in mind that much of Canada's animal welfare legislation hasn't actually changed since the late 19th century. Since 2014, organizations like IFAW have been urging the Canadian government to take a more active stance on helping endangered species as opposed to shirking their responsibilities to do so. When 3 in 5 Canadians agree that the federal government has done little to help the country's critical species, perhaps it's time to consider whose truly to blame.
Similarly, the US government's role in putting at-risk species at risk of further harm is considerable. Trump's Wall could actually threaten a significant number of species, while the repeal of Obama's hunting restrictions has put keystone species at severe risk. It's not that the US government is unaware of the harmful impacts of hunting and poaching, but that doesn't mean the government is lifting a finger to stop it, either.
Much of the same can be said for various African governments (like Zimbabwe). Much of the revenue accrued from trophy hunting, poaching, and even trafficking is funnelled back into the pockets of many corrupt government members, with corruption particularly pervasive in regional governments. Communities continue to get poorer as corrupt government officials get richer.
Unfortunately, what overshadows much of this awareness of corruption and governmental roles in wildlife decline is the onslaught of daily, depressing news which shows yet another lion, jaguar, bear, elk, wolf, elephant, or other animal killed for various reasons. To compound this, the news makes famous, and glorifies, those who are willing to kill to save wildlife - but are they "targeting" the right people? Do we need trained poaching assassins who become social media famous overnight, or a more far-reaching awareness of the fact that those perhaps to blame for the widespread decline and exploitation of wildlife sit in our governments, make our laws, create our legislation, and proliferate the abuse?
The illegal wildlife trafficking industry is purportedly worth over $19 billion. Do we truly believe poachers and traffickers are masterminding a multi-billion dollar industry which helps line the pockets of officials, government members, and criminal enterprises? When carefully considered, it seems laughable that we spend so much time targeting poachers but only "some" time pushing for governmental change.
What it actually boils down to is a simple question: whose truly to blame for the decimation and decline of wildlife? And how do we hold the right people responsible?