The Earthwatch Debate: Bone of Contention

Speakers for and against the legalisation of trade in endangered animal products

Is it time to reconsider a legal global trade in tiger, elephant and rhino products? That was the subject of this year’s Earthwatch Debate held on 17th October at London’s Royal Geographical Society.

An emotive subject ensured a full auditorium, with international onlookers invited to contribute via webinar. Martha Kearney, BBC broadcaster and journalist, expertly chaired the event as compelling arguments were put forward on both sides…

Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, dismissed any plan to combat the poaching crisis with legalised trade. “Legalising the trade of rhino horn and elephant ivory would not stop poaching and illegal trading, and would instead increase the demand for endangered animal products,” she said. Suggestions to introduce a regulated international market were simply “academic postulating” – and in practice, would make it much harder to detect and prosecute illegal trading. By contrast, South African born research fellow, Dr. Duan Biggs said that his home has turned into a war zone between poachers and conservationists, with rhino numbers still in decline. “Anti-poaching efforts in Kruger now involve the national army and the police…the current strategy of persisting with the trade ban on rhino horn is clearly failing.”

When put to a final vote, those against considering legal trade ‘won’ – and I agree. I have been fortunate to see a single black rhino in the wilds of the Masai Mara – but was saddened by the need for armed guards protecting it’s every move. The species had been pushed to the brink of extinction by illegal poaching for horn, and remains critically endangered. I fear that any trade allowance would only increase the traffic in black-market animal products. But what do you think? – learn more by listening to the debate in full or read a summary of the event on the Earthwatch website.

Dr. Glyn Davies, WWF speaking against a proposal for the legal trade of animal parts     Martha Kearney chairing the Earthwatch Debate: Bone of Contention

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