WildAid Fights Animal Trade to Help Save Endangered Species

Bear in Cage
Caged helplessly, with permanent catheters,
Bears can yield gall bile for decades before dying.
(Photo: International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Editor’s Note: If we can cage our tigers and bears, and breed them for the slaughter, why do we need wilderness? If we have game parks, why have wilderness? Hunting elephants and mountain lions according to a strictly regulated program of limited licensing and seasons, for example, can save the wilderness. Turn them all into safari parks.

We can create aquaculture and theme parks on a scale to rival the wilderness itself, or we think we can – or perhaps we should? Because today more than ever, everything on earth is encroached upon. Everything is globalized. Artificial environments and alien invasions are now ubiquitous. Today within humanity there are confluences of cultures and peoples on a global scale as never before, and this mirrors and is mirrored by the unprecedented transmigrations of countless plant and animal species

Is the desire to hunt big game any better than the belief that certain wild animal parts offer energy, healing, taste, wealth and prestige? So we take their heads and pelts, stuff them as trophies, harvest their bile, their bones, their organs. But when any hunt turns into a genocidal slaughter the killing must stop. And when killing for the hunt or the harvest is replaced by cruel, tortuous captivity, then traffic in animal parts must stop.

When only hundreds of humans were rich, and the wilderness spanned far beyond our reach, it didn’t matter quite so much that animals were killed for sport or superstitions. But now hundreds of millions of humans are rich, and the last wildernesses are melting away like butter in the sun… And we’re often well-meaning, when, for example, we help cut good second-growth forest where wildlife might return, so we can turn “carbon-neutral” biofuel monocultures into a commodity. The prognosis for this world’s wildlife is as tenuous as ever.

The only way to save wilderness-born, charismatic fauna from slaughter is to raise consciousness, everywhere in the world. If our global communications revolution can spread anything, and it can, then it can spread this. WildAid.org is a San Francisco based organization who has enlisted many globally recognized people to campaign to stop trading in animal parts by reducing demand. They say “when the buying stops, the killing can too.” WildAid also supports recruiting and training for teams who hunt down and prosecute traders in animal parts. These courageous warriors for the wilderness operate all over the world. Their intervention was probably decisive, for example, in saving the Siberian Tiger who still only number in the hundreds. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Save Endangered Species – When The Buying Stops, So Can The Killing
by Daniela Muhawi, October 28, 2006
Armed Forest Rangers in African Preserve
Rangers provide protective cover
(Photo: IFAW/Richard Sobol)

A person will do anything to feel better when they are sick.

While in Korea, one might find themselves sipping Asiatic Black Bear bile to cure an ailing liver. In China, ground tiger bone has been used to treat arthritis for centuries while a tiger’s penis makes a soup believed to work as an aphrodisiac. A rhino horn is believed to cure everything from fever to convulsions.

With a price tag of over $5,000 dollars for a bear’s bile producing gall bladder and up to $400 for a bowl of libido inducing soup, these are extremely costly remedies. Not to mention the cost of losing yet another wild animal to harvest its parts.

Billions of dollars worth of animal parts are bought world wide on a yearly basis. Traditional medicine is a major reason for the illegal trade of wildlife, a taste for the exotic is another. It might seem like a good idea to try some of the delicacies made from wild meat, but even if one finds shark fin soup, snake fillets, or pangolin (Asian ant-eater) steaks appetizing, it is important to realize that an animal (often endangered or threatened) was killed unnecessarily for the experience.

Illegal animal trade is most acute in Asia, and this is where one of the most successful environmental groups, WildAid, has managed to make the biggest difference. WildAid fights illegal trade aggressively by working with the local governments, communities and celebrities. The organization’s website explains that their “programs disrupt the trade at every level by reducing poaching, targeting illegal traders and smugglers, and drastically lowering consumer demand for endangered species parts and products.”

Co-founder of WildAid, Peter Knights, travels the world in an effort to help governments protect the endangered species of their country from poachers by any means necessary. In the past, it was not unheard of for Knights to expose poachers by taking the dangerous role of an undercover buyer. Most of WildAid’s current work, however, involves more traditional methods such as training the local rangers or educating the public.

Dead Rotting Elephant Carcass in African Stream
Once majestic and fearless, this Congolese Elephant was
no match for guns and the huge market for his ivory.
(Photo: IFAW/Richard Sobol)

WildAid is unique on its focus on addressing world demand for animal parts.

“Over 80 celebrities, mostly Asians, have recorded public service announcements that they have stopped buying wild caught products. Top advertising agency J. Walter Thompson has produced amazing Nike quality commercials pro bono,” says Knights with pride, “and most importantly our message goes out all over the world to up to 1 billion people a week. We’ve had a tremendous response from Bollywood in India and great support from stars and the media in China, the largest source of demand. Our messages have aired prime time on the main government TV stations. Last month Yao Ming [the 7"5 foot tall basketball player famous for being the best and most dedicated player in China and welcome addition to the NBA], held a press conference for WildAid and vowed never to eat shark fin soup again.”

Jackie Chan, arguably the most famous celebrity in the world, known for his action packed Kung-Fu movies, is also a representative of WildAid. As one of the International ambassadors for WildAid’s ‘Active Conservation Awareness Program’ (ACAP), Jackie delivers WildAid’s message. A variety of Media Partners such as CNN, Discovery, National Geographic, StarTV, CBS, NBC, Fox, Bloomberg and China’s CCTV, provide WildAid with free air-time where celebrities can voice their opinion on wildlife trade.

“It is basically analogous to the drug trade,” Knights continues to explain, “law enforcement alone is not going to make the problem go away. If people want to buy drugs and enough people have the money to do so, then there will be people willing to grow, smuggle and sell the stuff no matter how many coca fields you destroy. The long term solution is for people to stop buying products. We need to stop demand. To do that you need to raise awareness and make it socially unacceptable.”

ACAP Active Conservation Awareness Program Logo

Shark fin is the most widely spread product in China. One can even purchase prepackaged, ready made soups that contain shark fin at most grocery stores. The sharks harvested for their fins are not classified as endangered largely because fishing records are too poor to document the declines. These sharks will eventually reach the endangered list if current trends continue. Knights explains why shark fin is so popular: “It is a prestigious thing to eat shark fin in China. It is a sign of respect because people know it is expensive. Wild animal meat is seen as an exotic luxury&We did a survey and 35% of the surveyed urban Chinese reported having eaten it in the last year. The Survey included 24,000 people in 14 cities. Snakes are another wild animal often eaten and China has recently banned the eating of snakes to discourage this. So there is hope that the government will act as well as supporting the education efforts.”

Stack of Dried Seal Penises
Dried Seal penises such as these await buyers
succumbed to promises of traditional medicine
(Photo: IFAW)

Various surveys were taken before and after WildAid launched their campaign to stop shark fin soup consumption, and the results are promising. “We don’t know the exact number of other illegally traded goods, “says Knights, “In Thailand, 30% of those surveyed said they stopped eating shark fin altogether. In Taiwan, 38% of the public said they ate less shark fin and 15% stopped completely. Another sign that our campaign has made a difference is that in Thailand, people of the shark fin trade actually tried to sue us.”

Wildlife poachers and traders are not too happy about WildAid reducing the appeal of their product, but Knights insists that they will be out of work shortly anyway if they continue their activities. “Finding alternative income sources for poachers is part of the solution, as is beefing up law enforcement,” he says.

What many people don’t know is that eating wild meat is risky. Many diseases are found in wild animals. What is worse is that illegally traded meat does not undergo a real health inspection. The meat from a tiger looks the same whether the animal is sick or not, and a poacher will get paid either way.

“There is a high risk of disease transmission,” says Knights, “the risk is also increased because it is unregulated. SARS was thought to initially be related to the trade and many are unaware of the anthrax and Ebola transmissions that could occur through bush-meat trade; there have been cases in Africa where animals have died from anthrax and this bush-meat was still sold for consumption. The most likely source to new disease outbreaks to which we have no immunity is from wild animals that haven’t been in close contact with humans previously. As deforestation goes on, new areas become accessible and bush meat hunters follow, shipping potentially tainted meat to cities and even internationally…You couldn’t find a better way to spread disease.”

A rescued Chimp in Northern Zambia
whose parents were killed for bushmeat
(Photo: IFAW/John Hrusa)

Commando, a rescued baby chimp, at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Northern Zambia. Commando was orphaned as a result of illegal bushmeat trade in Central African Republic. Photographer: Jon Hrusa

Pets can also harbor dangerous diseases: The monkey-pox outbreak that affected dozens of people in the U.S who bought prairie dogs was traced back to a Gambian rat imported from Africa that was caged with the prairie dogs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that macaques can transfer the herpes B virus to humans and imported parrots carry psittacosis and reptiles salmonella. It can also be a threat to domestic livestock: Newcastle disease, carried by smuggled parrots, resulted in the deaths of millions of chickens and turkeys in the past decade.

Apparently, with illegally traded and wild caught animals, you never know what you’re going to get. You might have purchased an exotic virus to go along with the exotic animal. Importing wild animals and their parts is not just harmful for the species in question, but also for the consumer. In a bizarre way, these animals are retaliating.

Things are not just risky when it comes to eating wild animal meat, but can also be a waste of money. With the knowledge that a bowl of exotic tiger soup can bring in $500, restaurant owners will obviously try and sell that product whether the ingredients are at hand or not. Consumers will not be happy to know that the tiger penis soup they enjoyed earlier that evening actually contained a donkey tendon marinated in tiger urine instead of the main ingredient they had paid so much for.

Local populations are not the only ones that provide the demand for illegally traded products; Tourists have a major impact on wildlife trade. Tourists are drawn to remote locations where a variety of products can be bought from local merchants. Some of the most popular items sold are made from turtle shells, reptile skins, animal fur or ivory. The coasters, combs, forks, carpets or jewelry might look beautiful, but purchasing these items only encourages poachers to continue killing the animals that supply the necessary parts.

Rhino Horn in Silk Box
In a beautiful silk box, Rhino horn
and Rhino horn medicine.
(Photo: IFAW)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s brochure ‘Facts about Federal Wildlife Laws’ includes a large list of items sold to tourists worldwide. Items falling into the endangered species category which are commonly sold abroad but are prohibited entry into the U.S [and most other countries] include:

Whole shells or “tortoise” shell jewelry made from shells of sea turtles.

Sea turtle soup and facial creams.

Rugs, pelts, hunting trophies, and a wide variety of manufactured articles (such as handbags, compacts, coats, wallets, key cases etc.) made from the skins and/or fur of endangered or threatened animals.

Asian elephant ivory and whale teeth decorated with etchings (scrimshaw) or made into figurines (netsuke), curios, pendants, and other jewelry.

African elephant ivory, both raw and worked.

Sea turtle and some crocodile leather shoes, handbags, belts, wallets, luggage, and similar articles.

Sealskin toys, purses, wallets.

Whalebone and whale and walrus ivory.

Elephant Foot Footstool
Rescued too late – an elephant-foot footstool
comprises part of an IFAW exhibit.
(Photo: IFAW)

One of the more obvious and tasteless items sold abroad is a stool made from an elephant’s foot, cushioned with zebra hide.

“Many species are close to extinction, and many more may become endangered at a faster rate than ever before sometimes while the trade is still legal. Illegal trade is causing a decline in certain species, but the problem is that with globalization and economic growth trade has spread to different species sourced from all over the world. China’s middle class of potential consumers has grown to 250 million people in the last decade and is projected to double in another decade. So today’s legal wildlife trade can soon turn into tomorrow’s endangered species.

The illegal animal trade is a moving target. There are definitely areas where the situation has improved; elephant ivory poaching has decreased since the trade was banned in 1989, rhino horn poaching has gone down since major awareness efforts in 1993, but other animals like sharks are being hunted unsustainably now with some populations declining 80% in fifteen years. Tiger poaching is still a major problem and as some animals disappear new species replace them because there is a demand.”

According to the State Department of China, the United States is the second largest importer of illegal wildlife in the world. Knights attributes this to the countries’ wealth and ethnic diversity: “A lot of these trades are derived from specific areas and peoples of the world,” says Knights, “So while smuggled Russian caviar may be a rich Caucasian delicacy, shark fin soup is largely an East Asian dish. Rhino horn, tiger bone, bear bladder and sea horses are imported for Chinese health remedies, while sea turtle eggs is served in some Hispanic bars, and bush meat is served in some African restaurants.”

WildAid Logo

Sea horses are more appealing swimming in the ocean than in a pot. Rhino carcasses are left to rot for a horn that has not been proven to cure any illness. Massive flocks of colorful parrots are netted in the wild and only a few survive the trip out of the country hidden in tires and pipes. Protecting a habitat means nothing without protecting its wildlife. State parks exist all over the world, but they are meaningless if they are empty. The illegal wildlife trade needs to be stopped, and this is where WildAid comes in. As the only group that focuses on stopping the role of demand, they are protecting the parks and the animals that reside within them, too. Their slogan says it best: “when the buying stops, the killing can too.”


- Shark Trust

- SeaShepherd (various Marine fish and mammals)

- White Shark Trust

- Shark Project

- Bear Bile Farming Info

- Earth Trust – Bear Farming

- Allied Effort to Save Other Primates

- MonkeyLand

- National Wildlife Federation

- Elephant Protection

- International Rhino Foundation

- Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network

- World Wildlife Fund

- The Humane Society of the United States

- Wildlife Conservation Society

- International Fund for Animal Welfare

- World Conservation Union

- Conservation International

- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

- Wildlife Protection Society of India

- Defenders of Wildlife

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

2 Responses to “WildAid Fights Animal Trade to Help Save Endangered Species”
  1. sha says:

    who has saved an endangered species!

  2. dondonadan says:

    well here in the philippines also ,the laws about conserving endangered animals has no grip to people,they hunt for this very rare animals for tham to have an ego”that ihave killed it its a rare animal ,,they are proud of what they are doing ,,and one thing that i want to point out is that some of my fellow country men are ignorant ,they dont have any knowledge about the different indangered animals ,,they are ignorant and the government is not moving about this senario of my country,, and the endagered animals are the most affected ..and even they have band the importing and exporthing of ivory that came from an elephant tusk ,,ivory from different animals ..are used to curve ,,images of saint …and this kind of elligal activities are not seen by our government.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.