THE BLOG

Canada Could Be a Leader in Anti-Wildlife Poaching

04/01/2013 12:24 EDT | Updated 06/01/2013 05:12 EDT

I am utterly numb and speechless, as I struggle to cope with the aftermath of the recent carnage of 89 elephants including around 30 pregnant females. The brutal massacre took place in Chad, near the Cameroon border around March 14-15, ironically in the closing hours of the 40th annual Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where protecting the gentle giants was high on the agenda.

Just a few weeks back authorities had discovered 28 elephant carcasses, all stripped of their ivory tusks, in Cameroon's Nki and Lobeke National parks, and at least 15 carcasses across various locations in Central African Republic.

According to South Africa's 2012 environment ministry figures, 633 rhinos were slaughtered, marking a new annual peak in a country that is home to most of the continent's rhinos. This, even as the slaughter of elephants continued unabated, with 2012 being "another bumper year for the illegal ivory trade," as described by a conservation group TRAFFIC, which monitors global trade in animals and plants.

Fueled by the surging demand for horn and ivory in China -- where the growing middle class population in that country has "disposable income," elephants and rhinos are being poached in record numbers in South Africa.

Another species on the brink of extinction is the tiger. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF),

"Every part of the tiger--from whisker to tail--is traded in illegal wildlife markets. Poaching is the most immediate threat to wild tigers. In relentless demand, their parts are used for traditional medicine, folk remedies, and increasingly as a status symbol among wealthy Asians."
WWF is concerned that even countries with strong enforcement of tiger protection laws fight a never-ending battle against poaching fueled by illegal trading, which conservationists estimate is about $20 billion a year. According to Japan Times,
"Wildlife trafficking is a murky, lucrative, violent trade; ongoing, increasingly organized and sophisticated, but one that still remains largely unnoticed. And it is out of control. Interpol rates it on a par with drugs and arms when it comes to scale and the overall market value of the "products" killed, bought, traded and smuggled."

Meantime, the global outcry to tackle shark finning seems to be receiving some long overdue attention, as the insatiable hunger for shark-fin soup is currently causing overfishing of sharks, putting them at risk of extinction. A new study suggests, almost 100 million sharks are killed every year. According to Elizabeth Wilson, the manager of global shark conservation charity Pew Environment Group,

"We are now the predators. Humans have mounted an unrelenting assault on sharks, and their numbers are crashing throughout the world's oceans."

Whale sharks have become part of the shark fin market and one set of fins can earn US$60,000. Yet the fin is just five per cent of the shark and the rest is discarded.

Clearly Asian countries, particularly China, is at the heart of this human induced species extinction crisis. But as the saying goes, "Every crisis is an opportunity", and given that China is aspiring to become a global super power, this is a perfect opportunity for the global community to collectively demand drastic regulations, and impose trade sanctions if necessary, to protect the wildlife.

In a historic move at the CITES 2013, a proposal to regulate international trade of sharks was approved, as the conference wrapped up in Bangkok last month. Under the new regulations, five species of sharks as well as manta rays will now have to be traded under a permit system. According to a statement by the CITES,

"The protected species will have to be traded with CITES permits and evidence will have to be provided that they are harvested sustainably and legally"

Also at the CITES, a major victory for elephants in the war against ivory trade, which claimed 25,000 animals in 2012, as Thailand's prime minister pledged to outlaw her nation's legal domestic ivory trade. Thailand is the key place where illegal ivory from Africa is laundered into products destined for the world's biggest market in China.

Meantime Canada, which is perfectly positioned to enforce stringent regulations, is squandering away a great opportunity to ban the importation of shark-fins (in Vancouver) where Chinese restaurants are still serving shark-fin soup on their menu. According to a recent Vancouver Sun article, although it will consider regulatory changes to block the importation of shark fins from countries that permit cruel hunting practices,

"The Conservatives made it clear, they will not support a B.C. MP's private member's bill which, like a number of motions passed by B.C. municipalities last autumn, is aimed at imposing an outright ban on shark fins imported from all countries."

Surely the Conservative government could have taken a much bolder stance, especially given the recent Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). Canada has even more power to coerce China into bringing forth sweeping changes to it's treatment of animals and the environment, as the number of Chinese migrants is expected to soar by 2031 according to Statistics Canada. Currently, there are about 1.25 million Chinese living in Canada -- 3.9 per cent of Canada's population, and that number is expected to soar to 2.7 million by 2031, a whopping 6.4 per cent of our population. This could become a political hot button for the government, as Canadians generally are intolerant towards animal cruelty.

In relation to the record number of rhino poaching in South Africa, the environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa has backed a radical proposal to legalize the international trade in rhino horn as a means of neutralizing the black market and saving the threatened species. She said,

"Our rhinos are killed every day and the numbers are going up. The reality is that we have done all in our power and doing the same thing every day isn't working. We do think that we need to address this issue of trade in a controlled manner so that we can at least begin to push down this pressure."

Really? Legalize rhino poaching? Is this the best she could come up with? As global leaders continue to flounder around, fearing the political and economic ramifications, and squander away the opportunities to address the human-induced species extinction crisis, the carnage and barbarism of our precious natural treasures will continue.

In my second part I will explore China's deep-rooted cultural attitudes towards animals, which is apparently fueled by "fear of economic slowdown and a regime stability crisis", according to a prominent Chinese researcher. Stay tuned!