- Category: News Blog
- 25 October 2016
Wildlife farming in its present form does not contribute to the conservation of any endangered species. On the contrary, there is evidence to demonstrate that it harms wild populations and has an adverse effect on the ecosystem.
If we are to secure the future of our wildlife what is required are new innovative approaches to tackle the increasingly sophisticated criminal networks that have made wildlife trafficking a multi-million dollar enterprise to rival drugs, arms and human trafficking. Regulation alone will not counter the spiraling impact wildlife traffickers are wreaking daily on our biodiversity.
Time is rapidly running out for many species from pangolins to elephants. Now is the time for decisive leadership and new thinking before the present generation bequeath to their children and grandchildren a world where all our iconic species are, at best, in captivity or, at worst, captured only in books, photographs and video. Is this really the future we wish to hand on to our descendants?
Probably not. But without firm action to crackdown on wildlife trafficking we are in severe danger of passing the point of no return. And soon.
CITES CoP17 seems to have signaled a renewed international determination to take measures to combat the ever growing threat of wildlife crime. And the upcoming Illegal Wildlife Trade conference in Hanoi, Vietnam is yet another opportunity for countries to take a stance and commit themselves to resolute action. As ever, all this international debate is merely hot air without it being translated on the ground into enforcement and prosecutions to the full extent of the law.
But there is, of course, a third leg to this stool. And that is curbing consumer demand. Inroads are being made in this area but there is much work still to do. Cultural norms are changing but remain entrenched in some areas, particular among older generations. A case in point is the myth that consuming rhino horn cures cancer and a smorgasbord of other serious illnesses. The truth is these claims - most likely perpetuated by those benefiting from the sale of rhino horn - are completely without foundation as rhino horn is made of keratin, the same substance as human hair and nails.
Against this background, wildlife farming may seem like a viable alternative. In reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Recent research by Education for Nature – Vietnam into tiger farming in Vietnam revealed that it is a thinly disguised cover for wildlife trafficking. No matter the original intent of the legislation, in practice it is merely facilitating wildlife traders to launder animals taken from the wild and operate with a veneer of legitimacy.
ENV’s 2014-2015 investigation of a sample of wildlife farms in Vietnam found both laundering of wildlife and abuse of regulations were widespread problems, involving both farmers and local law enforcement authorities. Lack of accurate records and management of numbers of animals were also commonly found at farms including records of births and deaths, in addition to the widespread forging of transportation papers required for animal movements and to prove the legal origins of animals.
The research highlighted that effective management of wildlife farms is presently well beyond the capacity of responsible agencies. This is best illustrated in recent cases involving licensed farms laundering pangolins, selling bear cubs, and convicted tiger traders being issued legal permits to keep tigers.
Of the 26 Vietnamese wildlife farms surveyed all of the farms showed signs of having laundered wild animals from nature. Over half (55%) openly admitted that they laundered wild animals.
Worryingly, 76% stated that Forest Protection Department (FPD) officials reportedly received bribes from farm owners while 89% claimed they sold transportation papers showing animals of unknown origin were raised on their farms. Ninety one per cent also said they had bought transportation papers from other farms or from FPD officials.
All 26 farms surveyed also stated that they had purchased wild animals without papers and sold wildlife without legal papers.
There is, then, an inherent conflict between conservation of endangered species, and commercial farming and trade of these species. Conservation seeks to preserve biodiversity for the future benefit of all. In contrast, commercial farming is intended to operate as a business and seek profit. In order to achieve their goal, farmers must select species that are economically viable (those that can breed successfully, have generally fast growth rates, and are profitable in the market when investment costs are considered). However in Vietnam, the reality is that few farmers have an understanding of the species they seek to farm nor are they prepared, or intend, to invest in the facilities and management needed to operate a legitimate business in the legal farming and trade of wildlife.
More than often, lack of knowledge of proper breeding methods results in inbreeding or cross-breeding between subspecies producing offspring with no value to conservation. Likewise, captive born animals lack basic survival skills that would permit them to exist in nature in the event that reintroduction should become necessary. Most of today’s licensed wildlife farmers, especially owners of large farms, opt for the maximum profitable approach of illegally obtaining or supplementing captive populations with wild caught animals. Vietnamese wildlife farmers are neither scientists nor conservationists. Their priority is making money, not conserving wildlife.
The above point is illustrated by the commercial farming and trade of the Siamese crocodile. The development of Siamese crocodile farming is widely credited with the extirpation of the Siamese crocodile in Vietnam, and the drastic reduction of wild populations in neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Despite the successful growth of crocodile farming in Vietnam, wild crocodiles continue to be hunted and killed to support a parallel illegal trade of the species. The recent introduction of crocodiles at Bau Sau in Cat Tien National Park has been successful but with an enormous price. The reintroduction of captive bred animals is very challenging, costly and almost guarantees failure, especially with mammal species like bears and tigers.
Endangered species should therefore be fully protected under the law and should never be commercially farmed under any circumstances. This is due to the fact that the remaining wild populations of these species are very low, and that exploitation of wild-sourced animals for initial breeding stock alone may lead them to extirpation.
Conservation breeding of endangered species, if necessary, should be limited to specific conservation projects and facilities, staffed by scientists and experts, run under the oversight of the government, and prohibited from any form of commercial trade of animals or their parts and derivatives.
In summary, any policy relating to the loss of biodiversity needs to be carefully and seriously considered before being approved. Farming of even common species should be restricted to species for which scientists have concluded that commercial farming of the species will have no detrimental impact on wild populations. Permits should only be issued for farming of species for which an impact assessment has been completed and for which legal exploitation for breeding stock and some margin of expected and continued illegal hunting are considered sustainable.
Time is short. We are now in the end game that will decide whether we can tip the odds back in favor of wildlife. We must choose and act wisely.