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Consumer education key to tackling illegal wildlife trafficking – report

Brazilian government and civil society organisations must urgently, through in-depth discussions, create awareness about consumer responsibility in the illegal wildlife supply chain, according to a new report that puts a spotlight on illegal wildlife trafficking in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Supply exists where there is demand for a product or service. Ultimately, the responsibility for the [illegal wildlife trade] is the consumer market which, knowingly or not, supports the illegal supply chain of wildlife trafficking, mainly based on the argument that the use of wildlife is part of their culture,” according to the report, by Brazilian wildlife NGO, TRAFFIC.

An estimated 38 million wild animals are impacted by illegal hunting and wildlife trade in Brazil each year, four million of which are believed to be sold commercially, the vast majority through the illegal domestic trade.

This number isn’t absolute but based on the assumptions that for every illegal wildlife product brought into the trade, three animals are poached or impacted, and for every 10 live animals that are trapped and trafficked, only one reaches the end-consumer.

To engage civil society, along with “strategic private sector players”, ministers, including education and environment, must reduce demand by enhancing awareness and other social behaviour change communication strategies for wildlife trade, argues the report. It also proposes the implementation of medium and long term environmental education programmes that drive through the message that “people sell wild animals because someone is buying them”.

In addition, it suggests that “education and social reprehension” will be the driving forces of behaviour change. Any education materials, it states, must include content on wildlife protection “to enhance awareness of illegal trade”.

Other proposals include helping to carry out campaigns targeting the general public on the laws and regulations for wildlife protection and encouraging the development of partnerships between government agencies, the private sector and civil society organisations aimed at enhancing awareness and reducing demand.

However, the authors argue: “Repression actions to curb [international wildlife trafficking] will only be effective if carried out alongside a strong effort to increase awareness amongst consumers of the issues and their impacts, so as to reduce demand for wild animals and promote a lasting change in attitude towards wildlife.”

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon biome and holds the planet’s largest biodiversity treasure trove, with over 13% of the world’s animal and plant life. Turtles, fish, jaguars, frogs, insects, primates, songbirds, and parrots are among a long list of wildlife in Brazil that is illegally targeted for domestic and international trade. According to the report’s analysis of trafficking in the Amazon region, river turtles, ornamental fish, fish for consumption, and wild meat appeared most frequently in seizure open data between 2012–2019.

Some Asian countries are actually increasing their demand for Brazilian species, such as sea cucumber, sea horses, ornamental fish, jaguars and shark fin. In recent years, jaguar poaching for their parts (fangs, skulls, bones, skins, paws, meat) has been growing.

Recent investigations into jaguar trafficking within Brazil, referenced in the report, found that at least 30 seizures of jaguar parts, mostly pelts, took place in Brazil over the last five years; however, this number likely only represents a fraction of overall poaching incidents.

The US is a top consumer of ornamental fish and leather made from pirarucu skin. Birds, amphibians and reptiles typically sell to European collectors, and the Middle East is a market for Amazon raptors.

Take action

While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the continuation of illegal wildlife trafficking, if consumers don’t buy these products then trade will ultimately cease. Wildlife must no longer be seen as a commodity, but a fundamental part of an ecosystem and the planet.

If you see wildlife, or wildlife products, being advertised online, report it. If you know anyone who purchases these products, report them and, most importantly, talk to them. Education is the first step to tackling this. Many people who are buying these products truly believe some maybe of medicinal value, but this is completely untrue.

Many also buy these products because they are seen as symbols of wealth and status. This, again, is a matter of education; reconnecting people with nature and helping them understand our dependence on it. Be patient and point them to peer-led reports which can help them understand what they’re actually buying into. Spread the word.

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