Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Natural Resources Illegal Trafficing

There is an excellent article in the January issue of National Geographic Magazine on Trafficking in Wildlife. The article by Bryan Christy outlines the threats and difficulties controlling the international trade in wildlife and animal parts. Most of the article focuses on Southeastern Asian trade and the "The Kingpin" of these operations.

What the American public needs to be made aware of is the impact of this illegal trade on our National Parks. In most Asian countries there remains a lucrative and low risk market for illegally obtained animal parts and fluids used in folk medicines and traditional fashions. This consumer demand has resulted in the decimation of many species of wildlife and plants in this region. The answer for suppliers has been to search other parts of the world for sources of supply. One source found is our National Park System.

Cases have been made by National Park Rangers involving the illegal taking and marketing of bear galls from California and the parks located in the Southern Appalachians. In one case out of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park a practicing physician from South Korea was in actuality making more money in buying and selling bear gall bladders.

Bear paws and teeth are also targets for market poachers with their illegally taken parts eventually being sold at huge profits in Asia.

Whitetail Deer are targets of this international trade. In the spring when bucks start to grow their annual antlers they are covered in velvet. This velvet is another animal product in demand in the Orient. Many deer have been found shot during this time of year with only the head or antlers removed.

Plants are subject to theft for international markets. Park Rangers on the Blue Ridge Parkway have caught citizens from Great Britain and Germany illegally collecting large numbers and varieties of plants for shipment overseas. Ginseng (shown above) is commonly collected and sold for high profits in Asia. Roots of ginseng that have been taken from National Parks are in demand making top dollar for those willing to break the law.

The risk to criminals involved in these activities are minimal. Even if caught the penalties are far outweighed by the profits that can be made. These profits are many times higher and less dangerous than drug dealing and trafficking. Most suspects I encountered during my career as a National Park Ranger were involved in other criminal pursuits in addition to poaching wildlife and plants. That included people previously convicted of murder, drug dealing, breaking and entering, burglary, and dealing in stolen property.

Until courts around the world take this threat to our resources seriously, desturction of our natural heritage will only increase.

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