The earth is taking a deep breath while millions of people break from their lockdown worldwide. For the rest of Earth’s creatures, though, it’s a perilous moment. While we were tucked away indoors, wildlife began to reclaim areas that would normally be part of their natural habitat. With so many of them emerging out in the open to spots now claimed by humans, critically endangered animals are right where poachers want them. Here’s why that matters.
Over one million species are endangered, but the consequences are now spilling over to impact humans. In fact, pangolin poaching led to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a revolving door between the illegal wildlife trade and imminent risks to human health. Quite simply, if poachers go unchecked in this transitional moment for wildlife, they could easily start yet another pandemic. If we do not act now to halt the source of the illegal wildlife trade and mitigate human health risks, it’s only a matter of time until the next pandemic occurs.
The global poaching crisis has silently brought the rhino, elephant, tiger, and pangolin to the brink of extinction. Driven by the unprecedented appetite for endangered animals’ body parts — such as horns, tusks, bones, and scales — it is now likely to increase sharply just when we humans most need it to stop.
For example, a rhinoceros horn — sold as symbol of social status across China and Vietnam — is the most expensive illegal poaching commodity worldwide. More expensive than gold, cocaine, or diamonds by weight, it garners poachers $65,000 – $100,000 USD per 2.2 pounds. Some rhino horns sell for upwards of $500,000. The rhino has roamed the earth for the past 50 million years yet, due to the poaching crisis, it is predicted to go extinct in our lifetime.
Equally alarming, the COVID-19-causing pangolin is the most trafficked mammal worldwide, and the demand for pangolin soup — where its scale is served as a food dish — is unlikely to vanish without us raising our voices to regulate wet markets worldwide. Wet markets provide cover for the illegal wildlife trade.
Only we can stop the next pandemic. How? By refusing to purchase illegal wildlife products and supporting additional regulation locally, nationally, and globally; by supporting human conflict-resolution research so we can better serve and communicate with communities that might otherwise rely on poaching; and by supporting national and international conservation efforts, which not only protect our most endangered species but also give local communities a financial incentive to keep animals alive.
Saving Endangered Wildlife Saves Humans, Too.
By saving the pangolin, rhino, or tiger, we save their habitat and ecosystems and help to heal the earth — but that’s not all we accomplish. We alleviate poverty by providing conservation jobs to struggling rural communities. We eliminate the human trafficking that exists to support poachers; these smugglers kidnap children to move their products, then sell them into the sex trade. We save human and animal lives and prevent the next pandemic.
This isn’t a lofty ideal without action steps; it’s a cause that many others are already on the ground fighting for. Each one of us can have a role in preventing the next global crisis if we work together, and this is our moment.