Need a good reason to care about something? We'll give you five.
When a species is being threatened with extinction, governments will often try to save them by putting them on protected land, making it illegal to hunt there. Unfortunately, there are criminals who still enter these guarded parks, poaching the animals to sell their parts on the black market. Often the poacher will take the parts they are after, like an elephant's tusk or tiger's coat, and leave the rest behind to rot.
This problem is massive, with hundreds of thousands of animals illegally killed each year. Populations have been driven down to a fraction of their historical numbers.
For those of us living in the United States who are only used to seeing wildlife in zoos, it's easy to feel like the problem is too far away to be worth caring about. Even though it might not be happening in our backyard, we still need to take a stand against it.
Here are 5 reasons everyone should care about poaching:
1. The consequences of being caught poaching aren't severe enough.
Part of the reason poaching is such a big problem is because the animals live in some of the most impoverished areas in the world and those who hunt them have the potential for a massive payout.
Wildlife crimes net up to $10 billion every year, so it's easy to see why so many poachers are drawn to it.
Unfortunately, many African countries haven't had punishments that are severe enough to deter people from killing animals. In recent years, there have been efforts to step up penalties. A poacher convicted of killing a rhino in South Africa will now face up to 10 years in prison and a fine over $100,000.
Still, because rhino horn can be sold for $30,000 per pound with each horn weighing over 6 pounds, the penalties need to be increased much further so it isn't worth it.
2. The environment will suffer greatly if these animals are lost.
Every healthy ecosystem is balanced by the food chain. If a predator is removed from the picture, the animals it usually eats will grow their numbers at an unsustainable rate. When that happens, organisms further down the food chain can be wiped out. When this imbalance affects plant life, it's possible to cause landslides, erosion, or unhealthy soil.
Once the ecosystem is thrown into chaos, other animals and even humans in the area will feel the effects when it becomes harder for them to farm or hunt for food.
3. Wildlife rangers are frequently killed by poachers.
The wildlife rangers who are paid to protect these animals have an incredibly dangerous job, with dozens of dedicated workers slaughtered by poachers each year.
Many rangers simply aren't given the tools they need to do their job well, which is a big problem, considering how massive the parks are and how harsh the weather can be. Lack of budgets mean they aren't always given proper boots and other equipment or haven't gone through training extensive enough to best protect the animals.
While some parks are employing drones and other high-tech ways of tracking and stopping poachers, all rangers need to be given the best chance of succeeding.
4. Local economies suffer when animals are poached.
While it might almost seem understandable that some become desperate enough to turn to poaching in order to get a payday, it's better for the local economy if the animals are kept alive.
Parks with thriving animal populations can draw in many more visitors, which will create a need for more locals to be hired.
For example, an elephant killed for its tusks will fetch about $21,000, but if that same elephant was kept alive and part of an ecotourism attraction, it could draw in over $1.6 million over the course of its lifetime. This means that it is about 76 times more lucrative to protect an elephant than to kill it.
5. The reasons people give for poaching are not ever remotely justified.
Many animals are poached because of a misguided belief in some regions that a certain part of an animal, such as a rhino's horn or tiger's whisker, has special medicinal properties that can either be an aphrodisiac or even a cure for cancer. Of course, there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these claims, which means these animals are being driven to extinction for absolutely no reason.
Elephant tusks and furs are purely decorative, which is an awful reason
There is also a growing threat to protected animals that are being targeted for their meat. Bushmeat, as it's known, can take place on protected land, using illegal methods and deplete animals in really unsustainable ways. Conservationists are working to provide alternatives for bushmeat, allowing everyone to be fed, while still protecting the animals.
Now for the good news: We can help!
Poaching is the product of human demand, period. Once there is no longer a market for these animal parts, the killings will stop.
While it's a great idea to donate money to conservation organizations like WildAid or protected parks like Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are also other things anyone can do.
Reach out to politicians and demand changes that they take a stand against these exotic wildlife products, closing import loopholes and increasing regulations on products that threaten these animals.
Cover image: Shutterstock
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