America's Animals: Worth More than the Sum of their Parts

mooseOver the last month, at least 91 elephants in western Zimbabwe have succumbed to cyanide poisoning. Officials believe that poachers, in pursuit of lucrative ivory tusks, spread the poison over natural salt licks used by the elephants.

But this story is not unique to Africa; poaching also occurs in the US. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that for each of the millions of animals hunted legally, “another is killed illegally, perhaps on closed land or out of season”.

In general, poaching is done for “sport or commercial profit”. The heads of sheep, elk, moose, deer, goats, and bears are popular “trophies” and can fetch high prices on the black market. Of further value are the antlers, hooves and tails of deer, elk, and caribou; the feathers of eagles and other birds of prey; and the paws, claws, teeth, and gall bladders of bears.

If that isn’t disturbing, consider the impacts. In addition to directly killing animals, poaching often indirectly kills the orphaned young. As a result, it can drastically reduce species’ populations. Prized Bengal tigers and central African gorillas, for example, are now on the brink of extinction. Poaching can also have reverberations throughout the ecosystem, particularly for the predators and prey of targeted species. In the case of the poisoned African elephants, lions, hyenas and vultures have all “died from feeding on contaminated carcasses”.

But Americans can take action to reduce the incidence of poaching. They can lobby for state wildlife regulations (as in New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Delaware) and report violations to the state government. They can refrain from purchasing illegal animal products, stifling demand. Moreover, they can support various conservation and humane societies working to protect wildlife, including Op4G partners Hawk Talk and Noah’s Ark.

To learn more, please visit the websites of the Humane Society of the United States and the World Wildlife Fund.

Flickr photo credit: US FWS

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