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The wildlife trade in our own backyard

Our second installment of our year-long coverage of the wildlife trade focuses on trade in our own backyards. You have probably heard about the wildlife trade and trafficking as something that happens in other countries, as the most notable stories are of elephants and rhinos being killed in Africa or tigers being poached in Indonesia, but it is very much a problem in the United States.  A 2016 poll, commissioned by WILDAID, found that many Americans were not aware that many species in the United States are collected as part of the illegal wildlife trade, including our own American black bear and many species of native turtles.   

What’s the story behind this trade? 

According to the Humane Society of the United States, each year in the United States, up to 30,000 American bears are hunted legally. It is estimated that the illegal collection annually of bears is at least equal to the legal number, if not more. Legally, bears are taken as trophies or for their meat. Illegally, bears can be killed because of human-animal conflict or as trophies (this is often out of season for those without a permit). In addition, American black bear mothers are often killed, and their cubs live-caught to be sold overseas to bile farms, which is a highly valued component in traditional Asian medicine.   

Turtles, including in the Southeast region of the US, are also illegally collected. These animals are trapped to be sold into the pet trade, for food, or for their body parts. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service many turtles are collected illegally and shipped overseas to be exotic pets. Some of the affected species are box turtles, wood turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins. Populations of these species are under stress, as the illegal collection outpaces their ability to reproduce and repopulate (National Geographic, 2019).  
 
How does Zoo Atlanta help?

Zoo Atlanta is a partner of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, an international collaborative led by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  In collaboration, we work to raise awareness of the issues and engage and empower our constituents to be active in fighting the illegal trade. 

In addition, many of our programs and interpretive signage throughout the Zoo educate the public on the issues associated with wildlife trade and its effect on wildlife. For example, our Traders Alley complex features species that are often captured as part of this industry, as well as gives guests an idea of how they can be part of the solution. 
 
How can you act to help save these species? 

Although you may not be intimately involved, there are several ways you can help. One way is to get educated; follow our monthly conservation blog series this year that will focus on this wildlife trade industry and its many facets, both legal and illegal. In addition, you can learn more through the many partners that are involved in combating the illegal trade, such as USFWS and the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. 

Another key way to help is to be in the know and use your fiscal power. The United States is a primary consumer of illegal wildlife trade. As a consumer, be smart and use the plethora of available resources to aid you in making decisions. AZA has developed some tools for you as part of the Be Informed, #BuyInformed campaign. 

A third way to help is “if you see something, say something.”  If you witness something that you think might be related to a wildlife crime/illegal harvest, call your local law enforcement or state department of natural resources. You can also report it directly by phone or email to the USFW Wildlife Crime Division

Working together, we can save species and end the illegal wildlife trade! Come back next month when we will delve deeper into the wildlife trade by exploring the big cat trade, both here in the US and abroad.   
 
Reference links:
 
WILDAID 
https://wildaid.org/ 
2016 Press release: https://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/WildAid-USFWS-PR.pdf 
 
National Geographic, 2019 
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/american-turtles-poached-to-become-asian-pets 
 
Wildlife Trafficking Alliance 
https://wildlifetraffickingalliance.org/ 
  
Buy Informed 
https://wildlifetraffickingalliance.org/buy-informed/
 
USFW Wildlife Crime Division 
https://www.fws.gov/refuges/lawEnforcement/report-wildlife-crimes.php 

Michelle Kolar
Vice President of Education

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl