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What is our share of illegal wildlife trade?
What is our share of illegal wildlife trade?

Scenes such as wildlife poaching or caging animals in pitiful conditions are painful for most people. Humans often kill wild animals out of fear, or they feel proud of hunting animals, and sometimes they decide to destroy animals to save their crops and livestock. But a main reason for killing or catching animals is profit. In Africa elephants are killed for their ivory and rhinoceroses for their horns; in Asia tigers meet the same fate for their skin and bones; many colorful birds of tropical forests are caught because they are pretty and bring in good money. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in our country too.

Herbivores such as Persian bezoar, wild sheep, gazelles and jebeer gazelles are poached for their meat, horns and skin and are sold illicitly. Bird and fish poachers sell hundreds of tons of meat of migratory birds and different species of fish in the black market all year round. Many species of birds of prey, such as the saker falcon, are captured alive to be sold in the markets of Arab Sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and poachers try to live catch Houbara bustards in Iran’s central desert to be exported to those countries. In the home market, pet shops are replete with animals smuggled into the country and sold as pets -animals such as tropical parrots, different monkey species, snakes, other species of reptiles and even some species of spiders.

Illegal wildlife trade is not limited to animals. Wild plants and herbal products have not remained immune to the illegal markets either. Many valuable and long-living trees such as the yew tree (taxus bacata) are logged from the country’s forests and sold in illicit markets.

Many urbanites imagine that the illegal trade in wildlife, animal parts and related products occur only among native communities and criminal organizations, but this is not the case. On the contrary, many of these products sold on these illegal markets find their clients in the cities. A study in 2010 shows that the number of tigers kept in captivity in the United States is greater than tigers living in the wild. Tigers are felines which live only in the wild places of Asia, but many individuals of this species are captured alive and end up in zoos or private homes in US cities or cities in other countries. The most expensive objects made of ivory are sold in the cities and medicinal products with supposed aphrodisiac properties that are made of rhinoceros’ horns are sold to clients living in the cities. Shark fin soup is listed among one of the most expensive dishes in Japan.

City dwellers of Iran too are the main customers of illegal wildlife trade. PWHF experts have observed that the biggest demand for red deer meat of Golestan National Park comes from residents of Gorgan, Minoudasht, Mashhad and even Tehran. This also goes for the meat of gazelles, wild goat and wild sheep of Bamu National Park in Fars Province that often finds its customer in Shiraz. Expensive statues carved of yew wood are sold in the Bazars of big cities like Tehran. During fall and winter many restaurants in northern Caspian provinces of Iran serve tourists coming from Tehran and Karaj with dishes made of migratory bird meat.

Hence, the main customers of this market are city folks living far from natural habitats and wildlife. As long as there are markets in the cities for wildlife and other products, killing and live catching of animals will continue.

World Environment Day is being celebrated this year with a focus on illegal trade in wild species and the damages that this trade is causing on the environment. The United Nations asks all those who go out to nature to do so solely to enjoy and rejuvenate themselves. Even for those of us who may be tempted to buy any product taken from the natural world it is important that we first check its background and make sure where it has come from. Perhaps that beautiful wooden box is made of a rare and endangered tree, or the delicious and special food of this restaurant is prepared with the meat of a nearly extinct species of bird. Or that cute animal in the pet shop has been illegally captured and ended up in our city’s pet shops. We should keep in mind that the more we spend on such products, the more we become an accessory to this booming illegal trade in wildlife or wildlife products.