B.C.-based researcher working to address global illegal wildlife trade – Hope Standard

Keeping owls as pets was made popular after the hugely popular Harry Potter movies came out.  (Photo from file)Keeping owls as pets was made popular after the hugely popular Harry Potter movies came out. (Photo from file)

From a corner of the cariboo, in Big Lake, BC, Dr. Chris Shepherd continues his life’s mission to stop the illegal global wildlife trade, and save species from extinction.

Shepherd is the executive director of the Monitor Conservation Research Society (MCRS), an organization dedicated to stopping the illegal global wildlife trade.

He became interested in the animal trade during a trip to Thailand where he ended up volunteering at a zoo. He has always been interested in conservation, but until then was unaware of the practice’s impact on animals.

“It was terrible,” he recalls of the first exposures.

Shepherd shared the history of MCRS and the evolution of its work when he spoke to a roomful of people at the Scout Island Nature Center on Oct. 20.

Since becoming aware of this problem, armed with a doctorate from Oxford Brooks University, he has worked on investigation, research and motivation of governments and others to combat the issue.

He focuses on raising awareness, advocating for tougher penalties, and research to support changes in regulations.

While he spent years working for other organizations on well-known species such as endangered tortoises, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants and sun bears, he now focuses on lesser-known species and helped create MCRS specifically for this.

MCRS seeks to address the disappearance of many species of birds, lesser-known reptiles and other animals.

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While the illegal trade in wildlife — including live songbirds — may not be on the radar of many people in North America, it’s a massive black market economy worth billions of dollars, Shepherd said. Interestingly, the illegal animal trade also now sees some migratory birds that we would see seasonally in our area in Europe as pets.

He gave the examples of bluebirds appearing in Europe, as well as the popularization of keeping owls as pets after the Harry Potter films became so popular.

Fashions change, and styles appear and disappear, but still the trade continues because the suppliers simply change with the trends.

Shepherd said years of research and advocacy have revealed how the industry relies on corrupt airport and port officials and a lack of awareness.

“Most airports don’t take animal trafficking as a serious problem,” explains Shepherd. But stopping cross-border smuggling is not an easy solution either, as confiscated animals are often not returned to the wild in some places. This is a result of a combination of factors and challenging logistics. Mortality can be over 50 percent in transport alone for smuggled animals, even before confiscation it would be difficult to even know where the animals will return, facilities to feed or house confiscated animals often do not exist and some countries have policies and procedures that include the euthanization of all confiscated animals.

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One of the research methods that Shepherd and his team use is to visit the large animal markets in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

These countries have markets where thousands and thousands of animals are sold.

Indonesia is the largest source of captured wild songbirds, and the largest consumer, explains Shepherd, who has witnessed species appear and disappear from these markets as they become popular and then die out. As the birds become rarer, they become more valuable.

He goes through the markets and makes surveys, counts species, records in detail what is there.

At the end of a market day, Shepherd says the dumpsters are often piled high with carcasses of those who didn’t survive.

But while this work is difficult and can be depressing, Shepherd said he is an optimist, and there is a chance to save species from extinction and the research he is doing has made some real impacts.

“It was a career that I don’t regret, but it’s not easy,” he said about his chosen profession. “One thing I enjoy is the learning curve never ends.”

He must develop encyclopedic knowledge of species, and in the case of dead animal markets, he must know antlers, teeth, skulls and other parts of a wide variety of animals.

Over 100 species of reptiles now have better protection in Australia based on a study conducted by his organization.

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Japan is about to ban “wildlife cafes,” where cooked wild animals are kept as a novelty for patrons of the cafes, thanks in part to their work.

Some populations that are recognized as threatened are being bred in captivity in order to release them back into the wild and boost the populations.

While the more prominent illegal wildlife trade is overseas, Shepherd said North Americans also have a role to play and can have an impact.

Shepherd said there are problems with illegal trade in North America, and gave the example of Canadian laws that allow the purchase and sale of old ivory. This allows much illegal ivory and products from poached animals such as narwhals to be more easily smuggled, passing as “old ivory” despite new sources.

He also said that Canadians can sign petitions and put pressure on governments to change regulations to address the issue and can refrain from buying animal products when they travel, including shellfish and other items that are often unpalatable from live animals. be collected.

People can also help by supporting MCRS through their website: https://mcrsociety.org/

“There’s no reason we can’t save this species.”

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