The past five months have been nothing if not strange, bringing change, uncertainty and no end of confusion to people across the globe. As people retreated into their homes, news feeds were filled with footage of wildlife taking advantage of that period of peace and quiet which lockdown brought with it.
For a while, we were assured that nature was receiving a well-earned break from human activity, but now it seems that this hasn’t been the case with an increase in poaching activity being reported across Asia as a result of lockdown measures.
Across the five-month lockdown period, the below number of poaching incidences have been reported by a number of wildlife and conservation authorities:
- 93 leopards (India)
- 88 tigers – almost double the number pre-lockdown (India)
- 65 demoiselle cranes (Pakistan)
- 12 elephants – some due to other forms of human-elephant conflict (India)
- 6 musk deer (Nepal)
- 3 giant ibis (Cambodia)
- 1 greater one-horned rhino (India)
These are just a few examples of some of Asia’s more “glamorous” wildlife that have been targeted, but countless other species including wild birds, desert antelopes and smaller animals have also fallen victim to the increase in poaching.
Furthermore, these are only the reported cases meaning that the exact numbers could be higher.
Even before the pandemic, as the most densely populated continent on Earth, Asia was where the greatest number of wild animals faced threats from human activity. But as the effects of lockdown set in, these threats were greatly increased.
Joseph Walston, head of global conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society explains that during lockdown “In places like South-east Asia, there’s this huge urban-to-rural migration where people have lost their jobs in the cities overnight. They’re now having to depend on poaching, logging or other activities that are degrading nature because they have no other option.”.
No job means no money for food, driving individuals into the forests to try and sustain their livelihoods by any means possible. And with fewer ranger patrols and reduced presence of anti-poaching authorities due to measures imposed during lockdown, wild animals became increasingly vulnerable.
Wild animals killed by poachers can be sold or eaten as food, or their body parts can be sold into the illegal wildlife trade to be used in medicine or to create other material products – at times fetching a high price. Without their usual income, it’s easy to understand why individuals turn to poaching as a source of financial support.
Regardless of whether it is for money to support their families or for food to keep them alive, poaching has been a side effect of lockdown which has had a tragic impact on wildlife.
Whilst no silver bullet exists for such a deep-rooted dilemma, one of the most obvious changes which has been called for by conservionists the world over is to put a permanent end to the illegal wildlife trade.
Back in April the Global Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society and WildAid launched a coallition to end the commercial trade of terrestrial wild animals for consumption. The campaign gathered global media support, and saw positive changes being put in place across Asia and beyond.
Towards the end of May, the Chinese province of Wuhan announced that it was implementing a ban on the eating of wild animals, and later in the summer Vietnam moved to ban the import of wildlife and wildlife products.
Such bans help to remove the demand for wild animals to be sold as food in markets, or to be sold for body parts used in traditional medicine and to create material products. As such, by implementing bans these nations are weakening an industry that fuels demand for poaching of endangered wildlife.
But beyond protecting endangered wildlife, the ban of illegal wildlife trade also protects the health of humans by helping to prevent future pandemics such as this one. Poaching involves dangerously encroaching on wildlife habitats, and the killing of these animals exposes people to deadly zoonotic diseases. So by implementing a ban on trade is a win-win situation: it brings an end to the killing of endangered species, and helps prevent the outbreak of zoonotic disease.
Whilst the statistics discussed at the beginning of this article indeed tell a sad story, the growing movement calling for a permanent end to illegal wildlife trade tells a different tale.
There is hope, and change is possible.
If you wish to do your bit to help #EndTheTrade, you can sign this petition.