In reading an article in Mongabay today I felt my stomach knot up. It highlights the problem that I’ve witnessed for the past 14 years. The large percentage of conservation dollars around the world still goes to scientific study by large not for profits whose motives are clearly not on solving the problems at hand, a major one being the proliferation of the illegal wildlife trade. I witnessed this in Washington DC over and over again.
The attendees of the Asia chapters of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) and the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), two major research organisations, have drawn the conclusion that the illegal wildlife trade is decimating our animals, and that scientists aren’t doing enough to combat it. These were some of the conclusions:
“The research community has lagged behind the conservation practitioner community in recognizing the urgency of threats posed by illegal wildlife trade”
“Conservation practitioners have been working on illegal trade issues for years, and it is time that conservation researchers chip in more actively,”
This statement from the meeting, on the other hand, is indicative of the problem: “The Society for Conservation Biology and the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation communities have a key role to play in helping to explore, innovate, design, test, critique and evaluate interventions that seek to stem illegal trade and enable the sustainable use of wild flora and fauna.”
This kind of self serving statement really makes my blood boil – Why should we continue to spend millions of dollars exploring, designing and testing interventions when the animals are getting shot, snared and trucked to China for consumption right now, today! Let’s send that money to groups that focus on law enforcement, anti-trafficking and demand reduction. Plain and simple. The ones who have a track record of success interrupting the illegal wildlife trade.
Judith Mills, author of Blood of the Tiger, came to a similar conclusion in her deeply disturbing account of the failure of the conservation community to protect tigers from almost certain extinction and massive captive breeding for slaughter programs in China. Judy was a former colleague of mine at one of the largest conservation organisations, at which I lasted only 6 months at before realising that the focus was not on saving wildlife but on growing the wealth and status of the organisation and its leaders.
These are three organisations that I have worked closely with that I know for a fact are making tremendous steps in the right direction:
Wildlife Alliance – http://www.wildlifealliance.org is a US based org working in Cambodia. The undercover rescue team sponsored by this organisation works in collaboration with the government and has intercepted over 63,000 live animals from poachers and traders since 2001. They have provided for medical care, food and protection for all these animals through a series of rescue and rehabilitation stations and patrol units. The undercover investigation unit mentioned above (WRRT) was named the most effective organisation fighting the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia by TRAFFIC last year. This organisation functions on less than $5 million per year.
Freeland Foundation – http://www.freeland.org based in Thailand, this group trains and coordinates law enforcement bodies which stop trafficking of both wildlife and humans throughout the world. Their founder, Steve Galster, has been a top advisor to the U.S. government at the very highest levels for many years and he has been the master mind of initiatives such as ASEAN WEN (SE Asian Widlife Enforcement Network) and ARREST (the Asian Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking) which was so successful in stopping trafficking that it was copied in Africa in late 2015.
These groups coordinate with Interpol and have been responsible for an incredible number of interceptions and arrests of high level traffickers, including large shipments of ivory from hundreds of African elephants in the past few months. Freeland is also very active in demand reduction campaigns all over southeast Asia, utilising top Asian celebrities as messengers. While financials were not available, I believe that this organisation operates on far less than $10 million each year.
WildAid – http://www.wildaid.org based in the USA, this organisation is the only one in the world that focusses exclusively on demand reduction, largely in China (the top consuming country for wildlife products). Their public service announcements have included Yao Ming, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeo and international celebrities including Prince William, David Beckham and Richard Branson, to name a few. They have leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of free air time on Chinese TV stations due to the calibre of their media and reached over a billion people in 2015. Their operating budget was around $8 million in 2015.
There are other reputable organisation fighting the illegal wildlife trade. These are three that I have worked closely with and in whom I have great confidence. $100 donated to any of them will indeed make a difference in protecting our most vulnerable creatures.
The researchers who enjoy the vast majority of conservation funds have failed to protect the animals or habitat. Time to put our money into the hands of the doers, not the pontificators!