Known as ashy tailorbirds, they were destined for the Indonesian island of Java, where they were likely to spend their lives in a collector’s cage.
Millions of similar birds are stolen from the wild every year, and prized specimens can ultimately sell for thousands of dollars. These birds are not treasured for their plumage or meat, but for their songs.
An illicit trade that begins in the primeval forests takes many of the birds to Indonesia’s teeming capital, Jakarta, where they are entered into high-stakes singing competitions at which government officials frequently preside.
It is a perfect allegory for how dysfunctional humanity’s relationship with nature truly is, and could only happen in a culture where we value profit and entertainment above all else.
There is no more heartbreaking crisis than the ongoing, relentless slaughter of elephants (except maybe the ongoing, relentless slaughter of rhinoceroses). I’m not very optimistic about the future of African elephant populations, I’m sorry to admit, but when good people fight for a good cause there is always hope. So perhaps this documentary will mobilize lots of people who aren’t already mobilized, to take a stand against poaching and the infuriating, needless, worship of ivory.
“We have killed about 50 percent of the world’s vertebrate wildlife in just the past 40 years,” he says. “We’ve killed half the numbers of individuals. We’ve fished 90 percent of the fish out of the seas. So these are big things we’re doing to the world.”
Each spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating waterbirds flock northward from Africa across the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. In search of food, they alight briefly on Albania’s Buna Delta — one of the largest remaining wetlands in all of the Balkan Peninsula.
The delta is also one of the most notorious killing grounds for migrating birds in all of Europe…
Environmental groups have estimated that more than two million ducks, geese, songbirds, and raptors are shot along the Adriatic’s eastern shores every year — part of what’s known as the Adriatic Flyway, a key migratory route for birds making their seasonal journeys between the European and African continents. A recent analysis by Wetlands International, a conservation group based in the Netherlands, concluded that as many as one-third of all birds using the Black Sea-Mediterranean Flyway — an area that includes the Adriatic Flyway — are now in decline, in large part due to illegal hunting.
Apart from the tragedy of it all, this turns out to be a cautionary lesson in the destructive nature of capitalism unleashed:
Albania was once a haven for wildlife. For decades the country’s communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, pursued extreme isolationist policies that stifled development and all but eliminated access to the country’s forested borders and coastal wetlands. When the country opened its doors to the outside world in 1991, rampant development and exploitation of natural resources followed, including unlimited hunting of birds — primarily for sport, but also for market.
When the communism of Enver Hoxha can be favorably compared to the status quo, you have a problem. And that problem is that wildlife, or at least living wildlife, is not valued and protected in the anti-regulatory, free-market fever of modern capitalism.
What would a world in which all those birds were valued, and given moral consideration, look like? Beautiful, diverse, and resilient. We just have to somehow figure out a way to get there.
Wherever there is a loophole or a vacuum, the poachers will go. And with Argentina and the Falkands failing to cooperate on fisheries management, there is a fishing fleet so large its lights can be seen from space working the area and clearing the ocean of squid:
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — It was a rare victory in the squid wars: Argentina’s coast guard cutter Thompson fired warning shots at two Chinese trawlers, blocking their escape into international waters. Ten tons of squid were found in the holds of the Lu Rong Yu 6177 and 6178 after they were hauled into port on Christmas Day.
But this was just the first such capture in two years, a minor disturbance to the hundreds of unlicensed, unregulated fishing vessels that exploit the South Atlantic, pulling out an estimated 300,000 tons of ilex squid a year.
The species, which roams across the maritime boundary between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, is key to a food chain that sustains penguins, seals, birds and whales. Managed well, it could sustain a vigorous fishing industry and steady revenues for both governments.
But the two sides aren’t even talking.
Argentina pulled out of a fisheries management organization it had shared with Falklands in 2005. The lack of cooperation has left both sides ill-equipped to deal with the fleet scooping up squid just beyond their maritime boundaries, and sometimes within.
“It’s like the Wild West out there,” said Milko Schvartzman, who campaigns against overfishing for Greenpeace International. “There are more than 200 boats out there all the time,” and many routinely follow squid into Argentina’s economic exclusion zone, he added. “Unfortunately the Argentine government doesn’t have the naval capacity to continually control this area.”
This is just another example of how the inability of nations and fishing interests to work together to manage fishing resources drives fish populations toward disaster. I continue to think that the only way the oceans can truly be managed successfully is on a global basis (with fishing fleets regulated on a global basis no matter where they are fishing), and with all the oceans’s resources being managed as universal resources, and not just for coastal states or states with the naval power to assert sovereignty.
Yes, it is unlikely that coastal nations will surrender their claims. But the existing national model they are protecting is a complete failure.
The figures are shocking: At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia; in 1970 there were 70,000; today, there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos surviving in the wild.
Killing rhinos for their horns is a “complex problem where values of tradition and culture have been corrupted in the name of commercial exploitation”, says Jason Bell, Southern Africa director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“Be it elephants and ivory, tigers and tiger parts, rhinos and rhino horn, the endpoint is the same – profit. And that profit is being chased down in the most brutal fashion by organised crime syndicates who are fearless in their pursuit of the prize,” he says.
In the 1970s, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned international commercial trade in rhino products.
However, the black-market trade in wildlife is now a multibillion-dollar industry, trafficked on much the same lines as arms and illegal drugs.
“The recognition that illicit wildlife trafficking is a new form of transnational organised crime should be a wake-up call to governments worldwide,” says Wendy Elliott, global species programme manager of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). She wants governments to increase their law-enforcement responses to wildlife crime.
A number of things jumped out at me. 1) Any commodity that is worth $66,000 a kilo (making an average rhino horn worth more than $300,000) is going to motivate poachers to go to almost any length, and take any risk, to cash in. 2) The complete disconnect between the myth of rhino horn’s medicinal qualities (cure cancer?) and the reality (the horn is just keratin, the same substance as human fingernails). And 3) the involvement of organized crime, which is not a surprise given the value of the trade.
You put all those things together, and it is hard not to feel that the human forces driving the poaching (greed, obsession with magical cures and medicines, an almost complete lack of compassion or interest in preserving the wild) have built up such powerful momentum that even extreme anti-poaching efforts will not buy enough time to change the underlying forces.
That doesn’t mean that the fight to stop poaching and the rhino horn trade should be abandoned. If anything, it needs to be intensified dramatically. And here is the one thing I think needs to be happen as we look at catastrophic poaching on land and at sea around the globe: stopping it needs to become a priority goal for military cooperation and assistance programs. Pull the forces and investment that we waste on the drug war and throw them into the fight against poaching and you might see some impressive results. It’s not guaranteed to turn the tide in time, but there is a desperate need for a radically different approach because what we are doing now–whether it is elephants, rhinos, tigers, sharks or regulation-evading factory fishing ships–simply isn’t working well enough.
Getting there would require a transformative update of our notions of global “security” and “threat.” But dealing with climate change and protecting the fragile ecosystems we depend on are missions that are as (or more) important than most of the traditional missions we accept without question.