Pity the Sulawesi bear cuscus

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

This is how the Banyan column in a recent Economist began:

"EVEN the Minahasan people, who pride themselves on eating bushmeat, call the collection of stalls at Tomohon, in the highlands of North Sulawesi, the “extreme market”.  There is certainly something extreme about the serried carcasses, blackened by blow torches to burn off the fur, the faces charred in a rictus grin.  The sheer range of species on the slabs is also astonishing: reticulated pythons, warty pigs, flying foxes (a type of fruit bat) and the Sulawesi giant rat (no, it doesn’t taste like chicken).  Especially as Christmas and Easter approach, other specimens find their way to the market, including crested macaques and a tree-dwelling marsupial, the adorable Sulawesi bear cuscus."

Even though I thought the chapters on endangered species and the trade in wildlife in our recent book were pretty depressing, this is even more so.  It fits the title and headline of the article:

Asia’s appetite for endangered species is relentless

Turning exotic species into meals, pets and snake oil is a big international business

Remarkably, there is something of a positive note at the end:

"The anti-trafficking regime laid out under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, struggles to keep up. But change is in the air.  Wildlife NGOs are hiring ex-cops as sleuths and working with governments to provide intelligence on trafficking networks.  In Indonesia the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an American NGO, helps bring half of all cases of wildlife crime to court.  Of those cases, says Dwi Adhiasto of the WCS, nine-tenths end in convictions, compared with just half when it is not involved.

The arrest in Thailand in January of Boonchai Bach, head of one of Asia’s biggest wildlife-trafficking networks, was cause for cheer.  But many weak links remain, not least corruption and poor enforcement in Cambodia and Laos, the preferred smuggling routes into China and Vietnam.  Scott Roberton of WCS in Vietnam says governments are getting more serious about wildlife crime, with China taking the lead.  But authorities in different countries do not collaborate enough against the traffickers.

Curbing demand may prove even harder.  Consuming rhino horn has no more medicinal value than chewing your nails.  Yet demand for rhino leapt in Vietnam on rumours that a government minister had been cured of cancer by it.  Some younger, more affluent Asians are growing interested in eating wild meat.  Back in Sulawesi, some conservationists want Minahasan pastors to thunder from the pulpit against bushmeat—even though their bellies might argue otherwise."

Personally, I can see no hope that these practices will be curtailed sufficiently to prevent some of these species disappearing from the wild – humans being what they are.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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