Ask Mr. Dennis: Which Species are Impacted by Illegal Wildlife Trade?

By Education Curator Dennis Laidler

Sadly, there are several species here at Potter Park Zoo whose wild populations are being severely impacted by the illegal wildlife trade such as black rhino, Amur tigers, snow leopards, African lion, red pandas and Asian spiny turtles. The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth-largest illicit trade in the world. It’s a global crisis affecting hundreds of species – many endangered. Animals are exploited for the exotic pet trade, traditional medicines, meat, cultural status, pelts, skulls, horns and ivory.

Money is the driving force behind this issue. The global wildlife black market is estimated at $10 billion to $30 billion annually. Rhino horns and elephant tusks are among the most prized, garnering as much as $65,000 for one kilogram, which is more than the price of gold. The International Rhino Foundationreports that in the last year more than 1,200 rhinos were poached for their horns – and the numbers are rising.

While poachers get most of the blame, they only get a small percentage of the profits. Although their share is small, money from one or two poaching expeditions is often enough to take care of their families for a year. The middlemen and end-of line sellers are the ones making the enormous profits. The booming economies in some Asian countries have helped fuel this demand and many large international crime syndicates are now involved. They are attracted to the large profits, a small likelihood of getting caught and minor penalties for those who are convicted.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently launched an ambitious project to curtail poaching. Project SAFE – Saving Animals From Extinction – is a new commitment by 229 AZA-accredited zoos/aquariums to harness their collective resources and partner with government agencies, conservation organizations, universities and local communities to save specific endangered species from extinction by restoring healthy populations in the wild.

SAFE builds on already existing efforts, deepening the conservation work done at the accredited zoos and aquariums.

“At its core, SAFE represents a new and unique opportunity to combat the extinction crisis and save vital species,” said Jim Maddy, president and CEO of AZA in a recent press release. “With thousands of scientists and conservationists, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are poised to make a tremendous difference.”

As a Potter Park Zoo member, you can help in the fight against the illegal trade in wildife. Visiting the zoo will raise your awareness of endangered species. In turn, you can help spread the word by educating your friends and family about this critical issue. Please become a a member today!