Epic Animals Aren’t Meant for Trafficking

An important international agreement for stopping illegal wildlife trade deserves our attention—and now.

This is a transcript of the video.

First, the bad news: Since 1970, the planet has lost 60 percent of its vertebrate wildlife populations. Some countries have seen a 75 percent decline in flying insects.

Nearly two-thirds of the world's wetlands and half of its rainforests have been destroyed, wiping out countless plants and wild animals.

Yes, there is a massive extinction happening in real time. But hold on, don't check out yet.

One of the key contributors to this biodiversity crisis is something we can put an end to together. Isn't it kind of great to have an immediate solution chaser to such painful news?

Check it out.

A recent study found that 958 species listed as at risk by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, were in danger of extinction because they are being traded internationally. We need to turn the tide on this wildlife trade, but it won't be easy.

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth-largest illegal trade in the world, worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It's backed by international crime syndicates run by some very dangerous people. They're moving corals and exotic hardwoods for things like jewelry and furniture. Baby otters are being plucked from their mothers and sold as pets on Instagram. More than 20 million saltwater fish from 45 countries are exported each year for the worldwide aquarium trade. Up to 73 million sharks are slaughtered for their fins every year.

Because this trade is growing, a species can go from stable to critically endangered in a matter of years. Some only gain our attention when they're almost gone. Had you even heard of a pangolin before learning they were being wiped out in Asia and Africa by trade? One million pangolins are estimated to have been trafficked between 2000 and 2013.

Plants and animals are whisked between countries and across oceans, which makes the trade difficult to track. But it also gives nations across the globe a reason to come together toward a goal the vast majority of us can agree on: stopping wildlife trade.

The Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, is a vital tool, the only international convention that we have to fight back against wildlife trafficking.

CITES works by either banning or restricting the global trade in animals and plants. Around 35,000 highly exploited species have varying levels of protection under the CITES treaty today, but it's hardly keeping pace with the scale of wildlife trafficking, the pace of climate change, or current conservation science.

For instance, a recent study found that CITES doesn't typically protect species until about 10 years after the IUCN lists them as threatened by trade. Thirty percent of species listed as critically endangered by IUCN right now have no protection at all under CITES.

Species that scientists say are facing a high risk of extinction must be afforded full protection by CITES. But powerful interests are trying to stop this.

News about the biodiversity crisis can be so alarming that we want to tune it out, but choosing one component of it, like the wildlife trade, to get active on, is rewarding—literally.

We've seen some amazing recoveries when we prioritize habitat and species protection. We can get loud and make governments step up their conservation games and hold them accountable when they don't. Countries that fail to take action should be sanctioned until they comply.

Countless community and indigenous groups on the front lines depend on functioning ecosystems. They are devoted to conservation, and their voices must be heard at CITES.

Those of us who can need to be good allies in this fight. What we choose to consume impacts the world. The ecosystems that provide the air we breathe and the water we drink are collapsing. We are responsible.

Let's not curl up in a ball like a defenseless pangolin and hope the threat goes away. Let's take care of our home—and each other.

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