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The Silent Exodus: Exploring Legal Avenues to Combat Wildlife Black Market Trafficking

"Humankind must learn to understand that the life of an animal is in no way less precious than our own." -- Paul Oxton

Wildlife smuggling is a lucrative business. Wildlife crime like illegal drugs and weaponry, are trafficked by deadly transnational networks. It is nearly impossible to collect credible numbers for the value of the illegal wildlife trade due to its very nature. The wildlife trade monitoring network estimates that the traffic is worth billions of dollars.

As a result of their increasing focus to unlawful global wildlife trafficking, authorities have confiscated a higher number of live animals, emphasising the need of safely handling these species. The majority of wildlife seizures take place in Southeast Asia, and most of the trade is driven by worldwide demand for live animals.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) establishes rules for the "disposal" of live specimens, however each Party must carry out the requirements through national laws and regulations. After unlawfully marketed wildlife has been confiscated, the phrase "disposal" refers to the process of handling it.

Concealed live animals can be euthanized (killed), repatriated and released, or kept in captivity. This study looks into the challenges of properly caring for and disposing of confiscated live animals in Southeast Asia, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the global multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade. 18 professionals from the fields of conservation, wildlife crime, and confiscated live animal management were interviewed.

The issues of properly caring for and disposing of captured live animals in Southeast Asia, which accounts for about a quarter of the global multibillion-dollar illicit wildlife trade, are investigated in this research. We spoke with 18 experts in the disciplines of conservation, wildlife crime, and seized live animal handling.

There are eight constraints to the proper care and disposal of captured wildlife.:
  1. Political commitment
  2. Policy making
  3. Funding
  4. Capacity
  5. Expertise
  6. Ill-treatment
  7. Falsifications
We offer seven key improvements for national agencies and CITES parties based on interviews to promote the efficient and humane management of illegally trafficked wildlife. Among these are wildlife seizure management, legislative support, greater political will, demand reduction, worldwide involvement, the register of rescue centres, and language adjustments. This report outlines crucial improvements to better vulnerable species protection and the welfare of millions of illegally trafficked animals, as well as basic impediments to the proper care and disposal of live confiscated animals.

The Convention on International Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) provides a legal framework for signatory countries to control wildlife trade in a uniform manner. CITES implementation in national legislation, on the other hand, differs widely across signatories. As a result, commerce in a particular species can be legal in one country but forbidden under CITES - or prohibited under national law but allowed under CITES. As a result, there is no universally acknowledged definition of illegal wildlife trading in the international community, and interpretations of the extent differ.

The illegal wildlife trade has grown at unprecedented rates, resulting in a global disaster. As a result of the enhanced rules, regulations, enforcement, and interception, a coordinated international campaign to stop the illegal wildlife trade has been launched. Wildlife seizures are now a well-known method of undermining illegal marketplaces all around the world. As a result of these changes, the quantity of live wild animals seized by government authorities has increased, emphasising the importance of compassionately and responsibly managing and 'disposing' of these animals.

The management of unlawfully trafficked and confiscated live animals is referred to as 'disposal' in technical terms. Alternative words are being examined, but to be consistent with existing internationally recognised language and recommendations, this study employs the term "disposal."

Live animals are an important part of the economy in both legal and illegal markets. Live animal trafficking is driven by consumer demand for pets, wild meat, working animals, entertainment, and status symbols. Hundreds of species from a wide variety of taxonomic groupings are trafficked live for the pet trade, although studies reveal that reptiles are the most common. According to seizure data, Asia is the most popular destination for illegal live reptile trade. Live animal trafficking threatens individuals, small groups, and entire species, as well as degrading ecosystems.

Live animal trade is a primary route for illness to spread over the world, endangering cattle, native animals, ecosystems, and humans. The 'exotic' pet trade is a significant part of the worldwide wildlife trade, and it has been related to the spread of zoonotic diseases.

The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of 2020, for example, has been linked epidemiologically to a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where wild and domesticated live animals were exchanged in close proximity. Furthermore, because of its long-term detrimental impacts on animal welfare, the live animal trade is of particular relevance.

The Convention on International Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) is a global agreement aimed at ensuring that international wildlife trade does not jeopardise the existence of endangered species. The Parties drafted Resolution 17.8, 'Guidelines for the Disposal of Confiscated Live Specimens of Species Included in the Appendices,' to give disposal recommendations. The three approved disposal choices for living specimens in this resolution are release into the wild, incarceration, and euthanasia.

Legislation, cultural customs, and economic factors all impact how captured animals are handled. When deciding how to dispose of confiscated live specimens, parties should seek advice from their own Scientific Authority. The final outcome must meet three criteria, according to CITES:
  1. to increase the conservation value of the specimens without harming their health or behaviour wild or captive populations of the species' repertoire, or conservation status; Species trafficking that is unlawful or prevent future occurrences
  2. to prevent future illicit or unauthorised wildlife trade; and
  3. Whether the animals are maintained in captivity or freed, a compassionate solution must be found. euthanized or released into the wild.

It's worth mentioning that many species that aren't on the CITES list are traded both worldwide and locally. For example, CITES governs just around 8% of the total number of reptile species. According to a study released in 2020, 35 percent of the 10,272 legally classified reptile species are trafficked as pets, with 90 percent of species captured in the wild, largely in Asian hotspots.

Seventy-five percent of commercially traded reptile species are exempt from international trade rules, making confiscation more difficult. This opens the door to exploitation of vulnerable species that are nonetheless lawfully traded locally or globally without documentation to substantiate trade impacts on the species. Authorities are responsible for properly disposing of confiscated live animals, but data on outcomes is sparse.

This makes it difficult to adequately track and assess managerial results. In order to resolve this, CITES looked into how parties handled live specimen disposal in 2016. According to the study, over 86 percent of confiscated live animals were kept in captivity. Many of these facilities, on the other hand, are not adequately managed at a defined capacity, allowing for exploitation and appalling conditions.

In the absence of effective legislation, well-defined enforcement techniques, and full records of unlawful trade operations, it's difficult to judge a state's commitment to regulating the illicit wildlife trade or preventing animal welfare violations. Despite the potential for confiscation to recover unlawfully trafficked live animals and rebuild endangered natural populations, effective management of seized live animals is still a neglected aspect of global anti-trafficking efforts.

We may be able to better understand live animal confiscation scenarios all around the world if we focus on a region that serves as a source, transit, and destination for wildlife trafficking. By qualitatively evaluating the limits hindering suitable disposal procedures in Southeast Asia, this study intends to increase knowledge of the management of seized live animals

We then make seven proposals to help reform the disposition of confiscated live animals, Seizure, confiscation, and management of illegally trafficked animals are typically required for successful enforcement of the illicit wildlife trade. Live animals that have been confiscated are routinely mistreated. This study looks into the barriers to the 'disposal' of confiscated live animals in Southeast Asia.

After illegally trafficked wildlife is confiscated, the phrase "disposal" relates to what happens to it. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) establishes rules for the "disposal" of live specimens, but each country must enact its own legislation to implement them.

We spoke with 18 specialists from seven Southeast Asian countries and identified eight different types of hurdles to transporting live animals that had been confiscated. As a consequence, illegally trafficked animals in Southeast Asia and throughout the world will be handled in a more efficient and compassionate manner.

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