Global wildlife decline driving slave labor, organized crime

Global wildlife decline driving slave labor, organized crime
A child grabs sleep wherever possible after a long day of labor in West Africa's struggling fishery. Credit: Jessica Pociask, WANT Expeditions.

Global decline of wildlife populations is driving increases in violent conflicts, organized crime and child labor around the world, according to a policy paper led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The authors call for biologists to join forces with experts such as economists, political scientists, criminologists, public health officials and international development specialists to collectively tackle a complex challenge.

The paper, to be published Thursday, July 24, in the journal Science, highlights how losses of food and employment from wildlife decline cause increases in and other crime, as well as foster political instability.

"This paper is about recognizing wildlife decline as a source of social conflict rather than a symptom," said lead author Justin Brashares, associate professor of ecology and conservation at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. "Billions of people rely directly and indirectly on wild sources of meat for income and sustenance, and this resource is declining. It's not surprising that the loss of this critical piece of human livelihoods has huge social consequences. Yet, both conservation and political science have generally overlooked these fundamental connections."

Fishing and the rise of piracy

Fewer animals to hunt and less fish to catch demand increasingly greater effort to harvest. Laborers – many of whom are children – are often sold to fishing boats and forced to work 18-20 hour days at sea for years without pay.

"Impoverished families are relying upon these resources for their livelihoods, so we can't apply economic models that prescribe increases in prices or reduced demand as supplies become scarce," said Brashares. "Instead, as more labor is needed to capture scarce wild animals and fish, hunters and fishers use children as a source of cheap labor. Hundreds of thousands of impoverished families are selling their kids to work in harsh conditions."

The authors connected the rise of piracy and maritime violence in Somalia to battles over fishing rights. What began as an effort to repel foreign vessels illegally trawling through Somali waters escalated into hijacking fishing – and then non-fishing – vessels for ransom.

"Surprisingly few people recognize that competition for fish stocks led to the birth of Somali piracy," said Brashares. "For Somali fishermen, and for hundreds of millions of others, fish and wildlife were their only source of livelihood, so when that was threatened by international fishing fleets, drastic measures were taken."

The authors also compared wildlife poaching to the drug trade, noting that huge profits from trafficking luxury wildlife goods, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, have attracted guerilla groups and crime syndicates worldwide. They pointed to the Lord's Resistance Army, al-Shabab and Boko Haram as groups known to use wildlife poaching to fund terrorist attacks.

Holistic solutions required

"This paper begins to touch the tip of the iceberg about issues on wildlife decline, and in doing so the authors offer a provocative and completely necessary perspective about the holistic nature of the causes and consequences of wildlife declines," said Meredith Gore, a Michigan State University associate professor in the nascent field of conservation criminology who was not part of the study.

As potential models for this integrated approach, the authors point to organizations and initiatives in the field of climate change, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the United for Wildlife Collaboration. But the paper notes that those global efforts must also be accompanied by multi-pronged approaches that address wildlife declines at a local and regional scale.

"The most important bit from this article, I think, is that we need to better understand the factors that underlie fish and wildlife declines from a local perspective, and that interdisciplinary approaches are likely the best option for facilitating this understanding," said Gore.

The authors give examples of local governments heading off social tension, such as the granting of exclusive rights to hunting and fishing grounds to locals in Fiji, and the control of management zones in Namibia to reduce poaching and improve the livelihoods of local populations.

"This prescribed re-visioning of why we should conserve wildlife helps make clearer what the stakes are in this game," said UC Santa Barbara assistant professor Douglas McCauley, a co-author who began this work as a postdoctoral researcher in Brashares' lab. "Losses of wildlife essentially pull the rug out from underneath societies that depend on these resources. We are not just losing species. We are losing children, breaking apart communities, and fostering crime. This makes conservation a more important job than it ever has been."

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Wildlife body calls for less talk, more action on poaching

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Jul 24, 2014
The underlying problem is that the death rates have fallen in Africa due to the introduction of Western sanitation, vaccination and antibiotics, while the birth rates have remained high. Food "aid" has also put native food producers out of business in many areas while at the same time the demand for food is larger than can be supplied by the inferior local methods (see Zimbabwe for a demonstration of the difference in productivity.)

The bit about "trafficking" is just to be fashionable, there is less slavery and similar practices in Africa now relative to the population than there has been for millennia.

It's interesting how one solution they admit has worked is giving individuals property rights in wildlife, and I dare say that will not make them popular with their tenured-radical colleagues, but the true root of the problem is even less PC. There are just unsustainable numbers of stupid people in Africa. If their ability stays the same, nothing will get better. CRISPR could help

Jul 25, 2014
The bit about "trafficking" is just to be fashionable, there is less slavery and similar practices in Africa now relative to the population than there has been for millennia.

Bending statistics over a barrel to suit your own need? That'd be true for any other region of the world too, but utterly irrelevant to this discussion. Instead, compare the rates to current rates in the rest of the world. Particularly the more ideal conditions in the developed world.

It's pretty much a no-brainer that there are people in Africa way smarter, far more knowledgeable than you, trying to deal with these problems. Yet the problems remain. Consider that when you again feel the urge to pontificate.

There are vast numbers of stupid people in [pick any other region of the world]. Bereft of technology, law and order, how much better would they fare?

Jul 25, 2014
Important to Note that the loss of megafauna also entails the loss of their oxytocin exhalations which moderates human violence driven by serum testosterone concentrations - which increases as a function of ambient.temperature increase. Massive losses in megafauna population preceded the genocides in Uganda and Rwanda. This is now occurring in South Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Central African Republic, and DR Congo.

Jul 25, 2014
Your political preconceptions and preferences have do not change the fact of dramatically lower average mental ability among Africans. The average IQ in sub-Saharan Africa is about 70 according to most studies. (About 2nd percentile for Whites/ East Asians). From this, only about 1 in 250 sub-Saharan Africans would be expected to score over 115, (even assuming a 17pt. s.d. rather than 15; at 85IQ US black level = 1/43 over 115 at 15s.d.) which is about the minimum IQ for a professional, while 1 in 6 Whites meet this level. This huge gap in the number of people able to be educated to a professional level is the main thing that holds Africa back, not colonialism. See especially the Rushton papers for sources.

The gap is primarily due to genetics, with most of the remainder fixed at an early age. Environmental effects from early childhood are relatively fixed, but new gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR potentially allow changing genes.

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