As the Northern hemisphere braces itself for a second wave of COVID-19, has anything been learned about the trade in endangered wildlife which has brought the world to its knees?
On the 4th February 2020, Nature Needs More sent the first of many emails to global mainstream media publications and journalists covering the emerging pandemic. The correspondence linked the zoonotic origin of the pandemic to the lack of regulation of the legal trade in exotic and endangered species. Eight months on, the legal trade in exotic and endangered wildlife as the root cause of COVID-19 is barely mentioned; and some would say it is clinically sidestepped. The discussions in corporate conservation and the press are stuck firmly in the illegal trade and around narrower issues, such as wet markets and biosecurity.
While the conservation sector likes to talk about complexity, there is little evidence of this industry being able to step into a multifaceted approach. Its activities remain narrow and inert; even COVID-19 hasn’t jolted global conservation out of its traditional ways of thinking. Links that need to be made aren’t being made or if they are, then they appear to be ignored. If the scale of this global pandemic can’t transform corporate conservation’s thinking, then I don’t know what will.
In fairness, traditional conservation is not alone in diverting its eyes from the tragic and high risk failures of the legal trade and the system that facilitates it, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The mainstream media we rely on to investigate untruths have stopped holding anyone to account. Wildlife news too often feels like the light relief section of the news, with some cute animal doing something funny somewhere in the world. The fact that this is a trillion-dollar global industry may be exactly the reason it seems hidden in plain sight.
Currently there are too few calling out root cause issues and the enablers driving the exploitation of the legal trade of species causing the extinction crisis and, the current pandemic; this is the reason for launching The Fly. How has the developed world come to accept living with incompetence, fraud and corruption at all levels? And, if genuinely caring means knowing the truth and ignoring the skilled perception management then ask yourself, do you really, truly want to care?
Dealing with the legal trade in endangered species and all the institutions that enable it – governments, business, finance, intergovernmental organizations (such as the UN, WTO and CITES), mainstream and social media, academia – the list goes on-and-on needs some interrogation. The demise of endangered species (and the natural world more broadly) is caused by the developed world not the developing, who are the victims of the former’s greed and apathy.
The landmark May 2019 IPBES report into the global extinction crisis provided all the necessary evidence the conservation industry says it looks to with its evidence-based approach mantra. The report confirmed that direct exploitation for trade is the most important driver of decline and extinction risk for marine species and the second most important driver for terrestrial and freshwater species.
So, with all of this indisputable evidence and a global pandemic that is caused by the legal wildlife trade and shows not signs of slowing, why does corporate conservation still ignore the role of the legal trade? Are the scandalous details of this trade considered too dangerous a topic to expose? Is the conservation sector prioritising its own survival over its mission and meaningful results? Desperate for funding (which amounts to pocket change compared to the value of the legal trade) have too many organisations stepped into the role of illusionists for their donor puppet masters?
It certainly feels like an uphill battle against incompetence, fraud and corruption that now seems endemic even in so-called advanced Western countries.
The Fly’s mission is to expose the institutional failure and the incompetence, fraud and corruption enabling the exploitation of the legal trade in endangered species. The wildlife and environment that many of us gush about has been sold out by nearly 50 years of weak trade regulations which evidence has concluded is driving the current extinction crisis.
As countries record ever-higher daily COVID-19 infections, and start the process of national lockdowns, this lack of interrogation of the legal trade in endangered and exotic species also continues to put people at risk.
It is time to see the issue of the legal trade very clearly and let all the enablers know business-as-usual will not be tolerated. If the legal trade in endangered and exotic species continues to be clinically sidestepped, then we are all walking blindfolded into a minefield.