Now, we have thought about this long and hard, but we can’t find anything positive to say about wildlife trade. It is either theft of wildlife from its natural habitat or the confinement of captive-bred ‘wildlife’ for the rest of its largely unnatural life. It is emptying forests around the world (leaving huge areas silent and devoid of mammals and birds). It seems to be at the root of major pandemics (SARS and Covid-19 appear to be directly traceable back to the wildlife trade). It is exterminating species many of us won’t have even heard of until relatively recently: the pangolin for instance (the eight pangolin species are now all endangered and the world’s most trafficked mammals); the Totoaba (a Critically Endangered fish endemic to the Gulf of California and being wiped out for its swim bladder); the Helmeted Hornbill (a Critically Endangered bird whose solid casque is fetching up to $1000 on the black market); the Straw-headed Bulbul (a once widespread but now Critically Endangered bird poached in vast numbers to satisfy the songbird trade); the Union Island Gecko (only discovered in 2005, so many geckos have been stolen from the wild that surveys in 2018 revealed that the population had plummeted by nearly 80%).
Some campaigners argue that without the income from what is termed ‘sustainable trade’ there would be no reason for rural communities to ‘protect’ habitats or wildlife. We should therefore grin and bear it. Whether that is the reality or not, it reflects incredibly badly on us as a species: it’s hard to argue that anything that is so exploitative as taking animals from the wild and selling them to be eaten, used in spurious medicines, or confined to a cage for our entertainment is ‘sustainable’ unless you’re prepared to look straight past the sentience of individuals and just see wild animals as exchangeable units of an unwitting resource we’ve decided we ‘own’. Besides which levels of even ‘sustainable’ trade usually go in just one direction: the vicious circle of ‘the rarer something becomes the more valuable it becomes, the more valuable it becomes the more it is traded’ sees more and more ‘traders’ piling in and filling their boots while they can.
We have the highest respect for the people who dedicate their lives to trying to save wildlife from wildlife trade (and many a spirit has been broken on that particular wheel), but perhaps what they’re really admitting is that wildlife trade is now so culturally entrenched (owning wild birds is a huge problem across Indonesia for example), so infiltrated by organised crime (drug cartels have moved into trafficking everything from timber to rhino horn, sturgeon, and pangolins, and the international illegal wildlife trade (excluding timber and fisheries) is estimated to be worth at around USD23 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal global trade after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking), so propped up by corrupt enforcement and government officials, and so widespread that we all may as well admit that we can’t end it but will have to live with it in one form or another (until, perhaps, there are so few animals left to trade that the soaring costs of finding and capturing them lead to profits evaporating).
Thirty-four lions were crammed into a muddy enclosure meant for three. Rotting chicken carcasses and cattle body parts littered the ground. Feces piled up in corners. Algae grew in water bowls. Twenty-seven of the lions were so afflicted with mange, a painful skin disease caused by parasitic mites, that they’d lost nearly all their fur. Three cubs lay twitching in the dirt, one draped over the blackened leg of a cow, its hoof visible. Mewling, they struggled—but failed—to drag themselves forward. A fourth cub looked on, motionless.National Geographic, Exclusive: Inside a controversial South African lion farm. Nov 2019
One ‘answer’ traders are increasingly turning to is to breed ‘wildlife’ in the same desperately poor conditions as some farm animals. The unspeakably cruel confinement and torture of bears for their bile has been exposed in recent years, and wildlife trafficking has now started to turn big cats into cowed versions of what we would have all recognised as the epitome of ‘wild’. The phenomenal expansion of ‘lion farms’ in southern Africa (there are thought to be more than 250 privately-owned lion farms in South Africa alone, born on the back of the sickening trade in trophies and the burgeoning demand for lion bones in Asia) has prompted the charity Wild Animal Protection (WAP) to organise a petition aimed at delegates at the upcoming G20 meeting in Riyadh (see below).
Given that the slogan of this meeting is “Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All’, and that the G20 is not noted for extending those opportunities to wildlife, WAP’s ask “that the leaders of the G20 commit to a global ban on the wild animal trade, forever” is probably a touch optimistic, but then the skilled negotiator always asks for more than they actually expect to get and the publicity alone will hopefully trigger more people to learn about the devastation being caused to wildlife by trade – and, in the case of this particular petition, the trade in lions.
The fate of thousands of lions bred for their body parts in South Africa is truly horrific.
These iconic wild animals are forced to endure a lifetime of suffering in confinement.
Typically, lion cubs are:
- Stolen from their mothers within days of birth
- Forced to live in tiny, cramped cages
- Very often inbred, starved and diseased
All until it’s time for them to be killed for their bones, which are shipped abroad for use in traditional medicine in Asia.
Sadly, this isn’t the only way lions are being exploited for profit. They are also bred for tourist interactions such as petting and “walk-with” experiences, and for canned hunting. They live lives of complete misery in unnatural conditions, until they cruelly meet their end. In 2019, there were nearly 8,000 lions in captivity in South Africa
Lions aren’t the only big cats facing this kind of abuse. Tigers are also being bred and killed for their parts and jaguars are poached from the wild for similar reasons. The only way to ensure their protection is to end the global wildlife trade now.
Demand world leaders act to end the suffering of wild animals and protect our health
To protect animals, people and the planet, we need to end the cruel global wildlife trade.
When the G20 meet in November, they will focus on dealing with the pandemic and coordinating a global response. That response must include a commitment to ending the global trade in wild animals forever.
This will help stop future pandemics and protect millions of wild animals, like these lions.
Call on our leaders to protect wild animals, our health, the environment and the economy. Sign our petition today. #EndWildlifeTrade
If you’d like to find out more about the trade in lions, please listen to the podcast below. In June 2019 we interviewed renowned wildlife campaigner Richard Pierce, author of ‘Cuddle Me, Kill Me‘ and the forthcoming ‘Lions, Bones, and Bullets’ which is due to be released as a documentary later this year. Richard spoke passionately and eloquently about the trade in lion bones which he had recently documented and was still in the process of writing-up.
“…when we were researching there were somewhere between 12,000 – 14,000 lions in captivity…there are maybe as few as 14,000 in the wild across Africa…the captive population may be overtaking the wild popuation…to be farming lions like that, it’s repulsive…”
Richard Peirce | Lions, Bones, and Bullets
We’ve also previously recorded a podcast with Peter Kemple-Hardy, wildlife campaigns manager at World Animal Protection. Recorded in June 2018 we discussed ‘ghost gear’, abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear which is added to the rubbish accumulating in our oceans. Estimated to represent 10% of all marine debris, ghost gear mutilates and kills millions of marine animals every year, including endangered whales, seals, and turtles, and compared with all other forms of human-caused marine debris it is four times more likely to impact marine life through entanglement than all other forms of marine debris combined.
“…It’s not a problem that we can wait to address, it’s a problem we need to address now – compared to other ocean plastics and debris, ghost gear is by far the most dangerous to marine life…”
Ghost Gear | World Animal Protection