Wildlife Trafficking

4. July 2022

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned from elephants is that there are no walls between humans and elephants, except those we put up ourselves, and until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.

Lawrence Anthony : Thula Thula Game Reserve

The Thula Thula Elephants

And yet, humans kill and harm more than a billion of wild animals legally and illegally each year, and unlike any other species we are developing ever more dangerous tools and dubious moral justifications for harming and killing each other with a vengeance as if our life depended on it, arguments as convoluted as trying to justify the legal killing of wild animals to ensure their longterm survival.

As long as all wildlife trading is not recognized as trafficking there is little or no hope that we can protect wild animals from human exploitation, even though a large number of people across the world recognize that wild animals have the right to live a dignified natural life within their wild habitat.

Not so long ago slavery of humans was an acceptable, legal kind of commerce. What remains of selling humans today is called trafficking, implying its illegality and our moral indignation. Victimizing wild animals for profit whether legal or illegal, is speciesism not far removed from the racism formerly accepted for slavery.

Baby elephants in Zimbabwe waiting for shipment to China for a miserable life in captivity

Trading wild animals is a world wide problem encouraging organized crime and social unrest. To begin addressing this problem  The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology has published its first findings of an ongoing research project authored by Ragnhild Sollund with the title:  Wildlife Trade and Law Enforcement: A Proposal for a Remodeling of CITES, Incorporating Species Justice, Ecojustice and Environmental Justice.

CITES is a convention signed by 183 countries attempting to regulate wildlife trade by classifying, regulating and protecting animal and plant species endangered by extinction. The much larger number of animals not yet endangered can be legally traded as any other commodity. And even protected species such as elephants are legally traded for their parts,  shot for pleasure by trophy hunters and legally killed for population control. The International Journal of Comparative Criminology puts it this way:


” The idea behind CITES is that wildlife trade shall continue as an eternal chain through which continuously new individuals are killed or in other ways exploited in a “sustainable ” way for human benefit.”


CITES is thus operating in violation of UNESCO’s definition of animal rights:


” Compromising the survival of a wild species and any decision leading to such act is targeted genocide. The massacre of wild animals and destruction of bio-types are acts of genocide. Genocide is also eco violence that reaches beyond the suffering of each individual who is victimized by humans.

The harms caused by the wildlife trade and the lack of enforcement of CITES demand a remodeling of the convention. In the current nature crisis, new relations between humans and the non-human world are urgent and an important step would be to acknowledge wildlife crime as eco-violence and ecocide (Stoett & Omrow, 2020). Harms to nonhuman animals must be punished in proportion to the harms committed…

Rather than relying only on punishment, strong economic incentives should be used to support people who protect species from wildlife trade and the threat of abuse and extinction. CITES should be remolded to administer such economic support.

There are  for example, many projects by NGOs worldwide aiming to establish alternatives to wildlife trade for local communities. NGOs could apply to the convention for economic support to run these projects. CITES could be renamed  The Convention for the conservation of wild fauna and flora, rather than being a trade convention.

In addition, aid from rich countries in the North to countries in the South that are rich in biodiversity but poorer in economic resources could be conditioned on the ways they succeed in protecting the natural environment and its habitats, which is a system already in place when it comes to the protection of rainforest. For example, Norway and Germany contribute significantly to the protection of rainforest in places such as Brazil, Columbia and Ecuador. “


A link to the entire research article  first published on May 19, 2022 follows: https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X221099492