Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dealing In Endangered Species: slitting our own throats

What you see in the picture above are not wild cats in a cage, but the severed heads or pelts of cheetahs, ocelots and other rare and endangered cats - all confiscated and in storage in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services' main storage facility in Colorado. It is a sobering place, a bold reminder of man's greed and perverted sense of dominion over animals - perverted because as we threatened our natural resources, we threaten ourselves.

The worldwide trade in exotic and endangered animals is as important an issue as global warming or pollution/commercial development as to its worldwide impact on species. In 1973, the U.S. Endangered Species Act was passed and two years later the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was ratified but while these laws and governing bodies have done much to regulate, enforce, and protect endangered species, the slaughter continues.

And why? Well, the dilemma with many endangered species is that, to the poacher, the value increases as the more endangered it becomes and in impoverished areas where much of the illegal poaching takes place, the temptation to put food on their table is too great.

Terry Grosz, former regional director of enforcement for the Fish and Wildlife Service explains, "Given the poverty and corruption that exist in other parts of the world, there will always be pressure to resort to the illegal wildlife trade. People have to eat. When people are hungry, this is what they do."

But what supports the market for these products? There is a market based on greed and status. Do we really need a tiger head or a set of white shark jaws above our mantle? Or a stuffed gorilla hand to use as an ashtray? Or how about a caiman, standing on hind legs and holding a silver tray like some reptilian butler? Man's superiority? Only in his capacity for evil.

Another pervasive motivation that drives the market is the cultural history in ancient homeopathic medicine. Rhino horns, tiger penis (freeze-dried for your convenience), black bear gallbladder bile, and many more - all for everything from libido to hangovers and more, and at times more challenging to address than the status souvenir buyer.

But it must be addressed. Scientists have been making estimates of as much 15% to over 30% of the planet's animal and plant species could be bound for extinction by 2050. Naturalist E.O. Wilson says we may be heading to a new epoch - the current Age of Mammals, or Cenozoic Period, would be followed by the Eremozoic Period, a Greek prefix denoting loneliness.

Support organizations that are working towards curtailing the illegal killing and trading of exotic and endangered animals: CITES, WildAid, Center for Biological Diversity, and there's many more. They need your help . . . and so do the plants and animals of Earth.

"Wildlife dies without a sound," says Grosz. "We're the only guys who can give them a voice." Join them.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times.

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