With the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) having just passed and the current Youthink! feature on biodiversity, it seemed appropriate to explore the conservation debate and take a look at who the players are. Recent news suggests that the Internet is the biggest threat to endangered species, according to conservationists. I would have to disagree and point out that the Internet is merely a tool by which people looking to make a profit can find a market for their goods. Those trying to protect endangered species need to take a closer look into two very distinct areas of human activity: large scale trade of wildlife by rich and powerful companies and small communities exploiting their local environments in order to create livelihoods to support themselves.
A proposal to protect red and pink coral was opposed at CITES last week by a number of coastal countries who argued that such a ban would hurt local fishing communities. Well why can’t we come up with an alternative approach that perhaps does not ban, but rather limits the amount of red coral that can be harvested by an individual in a one year period? Kind of like a harvest quota. This would allow local communities to continue to survive and by limiting the potential profits might also encourage them to explore other forms of income generation. The enforcement of these quotas would require the creation of local jobs and while corruption is always a risk, perhaps these communities could be taught to be the protectors and not exploiters of their local environments. (Check out RARE, an awesome organization already doing this.)
The real threat to endangered species is the big companies who make millions of dollars in profits by engaging in the wildlife trade. These entities are more dangerous because of the sheer magnitude of wildlife they affect and because they take an active role in lobbying against proposals that might hurt their business. Although proposals to protect endangered species at CITES are voted on by delegates from various countries, these delegates frequently represent the economic interests of their respective countries. As a result, a delegate’s vote might be more indicative of the big business interests of that particular nation and less representative of need to protect an endangered species.