Billions of animals are killed every year to support demand for their parts. It might be hard for some to imagine, but ostrich skin boots, kangaroo skin soccer balls and chairs made from a stuffed elephant’s foot are just some of the items available for purchase. Tiger or seal penis soups, bear gall bladders and pangolin meat are another option if the consumer wants to eat a novelty item rather than decorate their home with one.
The practice of selling a variety of animals worldwide for slaughter or for the pet industry is a multi-BILLION dollar business and causes irreversible damage to habitats, wildlife populations and local cultures. Organizations like Wildlife Alliance educate local communities on the subject of animal trade in the hopes that doing so reduces demand for these products while also working with governments to provide an alternative means of income for families whose only form of sustenance is poaching.
Wildlife Alliance has a lot of history: Originally named Global Survival Network (GSN), the organization was created in 1994 by a group of conservationists who wanted to make a difference. Within the next 5 years, GSN partnered with the Barbara Delano Foundation to assist India’s Wildlife Conservation Society increase Olive Ridley turtle populations, established a conservation NGO in Russia to protect the Amur tiger and Amur leopard from poaching and merged with partners in 1999 to become the well known WildAid.
WildAid’s work conserving countless species and habitats throughout the world is impressive. Celebrities such as Jackie Chan have even helped educated the public about the repercussions of purchasing tiger or shark fin products. In 2006, the WildAid board decided to split the organization: “Wildlife Alliance with same U.S. non-profit registration and founding directors conducting field operations in Southeast Asia, Russia, and the Western Pacific, and a new separate organization with the name WildAid conducting Active Conservation Awareness, Shark Conservation, and Galapagos Islands programs.”
A look at the Wildlife Alliance Website shows the level of ambition presented by the organization’s members: Founding Director of Wildlife Alliance, Steve Galster, is obviously passionate about conserving wildlife. He put himself at risk when leading numerous investigations into the black market trade of endangered species throughout the world and has designed numerous programs to protect local species. Galster can proudly say that one program in particular, “Operation Amba”, helped the Siberian Tiger evade extinction.
Another star of Wildlife Alliance is Suwanna B. Gauntlett who founded Wildlife Alliance in 1997 along with Peter Knights, Steve Trent and Steve Galster. Her role is an impressive one: “She and her team advise and assist the Cambodian government in applying a front-line, comprehensive approach to wildlife protection. To date in Cambodia, Wildlife Alliance has saved over 18,000 animals from the hands of poachers and provides protection to over six national parks as well as the Southern Cardamom range in the southwest region of the country.” Gauntlett’s efforts are noteworthy and she has been honored with two gold medals from the Prime Minister of Cambodia for her work.
Wildlife Alliance has a unique approach of looking at the entire picture-not just animals and habitats. They strive to ensure that the local communities’ lives are improved while also ensuring the survival of the endangered animal species. It is a daunting task, but their website provides various solutions.
It is refreshing to hear the positive outlook of Wildlife Alliance and even better to learn about the organization’s successes proving that nothing is impossible.
Ecoworld’s 2006 article, ‘Saving Endangered Species’ explains the issues involved with illegal wildlife trade in further detail.