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6 startling facts about wildlife trafficking — and how you can help

General June 5, 2016

6 startling facts about wildlife trafficking — and how you can helpThe illegal trade of wildlife is a much larger, far-reaching issue than you might realize, and it's something we can't afford to ignore. Wildlife trafficking is one of the biggest threats to the environment, yet the realities of poaching and trade can be hard to picture — especially if you're a world away from the problem. SEE ALSO: 13 dos and don'ts when taking a selfie with the earth June 5 marks World Environment Day, which prompts us all to turn a critical eye to the state of our global environment. This year, advocates are asking the public to focus on wildlife crime, and the impact that trafficking of vulnerable animal populations has on our world. To shed light on where attention and action is needed, we've rounded up six illuminating facts that will broaden your knowledge on wildlife trafficking — and what you can do to make a difference. 1. Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 African elephants were killed out of a population of fewer than 500,000. Approximately 470,000 African elephants are currently alive worldwide, making the species officially "vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. It's estimated that 96 African elephants are killed every day for their ivory — that's one elephant death every 15 minutes. African elephants are vital to the environments in which they live, notably responsible for the dispersal and germination of up to 30% of tree species in Central African forests. But they're poached for their large ivory tusks, making ivory poaching one of the most noted examples of wildlife trafficking. Though many countries, including the U.S., have recently taken radical steps to curb the practice, African elephants still need attention and support from the global conservation community. How you can help: You're probably removed from the habitats in which African elephants thrive, but you do have the ability to support these animals and the environment by supporting organizations addressing the issue of elephant poaching. The World Wildlife Fund is a leader in animal conservation, along with elephant-specific organizations like Save the Elephants and the International Elephant Foundation. You can also stay updated on the latest efforts to curb wildlife crime, and advocate for greater global legal protections, by visiting here. 2. The illegal trade of wildlife is worth $15 to $20 billion annually. That's a massive number with hefty implications. Wildlife trafficking — ranging from African elephant ivory to tiger skin and bones — is one of the largest illegal trades in the world, on par with the trafficking of drugs, arms and humans. The trading of vulnerable wildlife is unsustainable and dangerous, causing imbalances in global ecosystems and threatening biodiversity by throwing valuable and irreplaceable species into decline. How you can help: Support efforts to dismantle illegal wildlife trade. Campaigns like Stop Wildlife Crime and organizations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare are working to increase awareness of wildlife crime, but are also taking practical steps to strengthen national and global conservation laws. Aside from supporting their efforts, you can also become an advocate on your own time. To learn more about the ins-and-outs of wildlife trafficking, find a good primer on the issue here. 3. Chimpanzees are now completely extinct in Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo. Chimpanzees used to flourish in these African nations, and now the globally endangered animals are nearing extinction in many other countries, too. Chimpanzees are essential to the biodiversity of Central African forests, acting as essential seed and pollen dispersers. However, only an estimated 173,000 to 300,000 chimpanzees exist worldwide, with only five nations housing significant populations. Poaching, disease and habitat loss are the main culprits. Some advocates claim chimpanzees could disappear in 15 years if we don't take action. How you can help: Give to those who are supporting chimpanzee populations around the world. You can give specifically to chimpanzee-related work via the World Wildlife Fund here, or give to dedicated organizations like the Jane Goodall Institute, which focuses specifically on the needs of chimps. You should also shift your buying habits. When purchasing wood and paper, for example, make sure you aren't buying products that contribute to the habitat loss of chimpanzees and other Central African forest creatures. Find more information here. 4. People associated with illegal wildlife trade have killed 1,000 park rangers over the last decade. When it comes to wildlife trafficking, park rangers don't just play an important role in curbing the practice — they're also threatened by the illegal trade. While protecting vulnerable wildlife populations through surveillance of poaching hotspots, rangers are often in harm's way. According to the latest estimates, one park ranger is murdered every four days in trafficking-related killings. In 2014, the majority of trafficking-related park ranger fatalities took place in Asia, with the majority of those deaths occurring in India. While countries around the globe have taken measures to protect rangers, it's still a wildly dangerous job to be on the front lines of conservation work. How you can help: Supporting park rangers means supporting what they're working toward — the conservation of vulnerable wildlife populations.  Campaigns like Stop Wildlife Crime and organizations such as 96 Elephants work to support park rangers, taking steps to strengthen protections for both rangers and the animals they serve. 5. Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked animal in the world. Pangolins, sometimes referred to as "scaly anteaters," are widely trafficked because their meat is considered a delicacy in various regions. Their scales are also used in some traditional medicines to treat a range of ailments, such as asthma and arthritis. But the plight of pangolins doesn't end with poaching — the animals also suffer severe habitat loss.  Both trafficking and environmental turmoil have left the animals critically endangered. Based on reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 117,000 to 233,000 pangolins were killed by poachers throughout the three-year period. How you can help:  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a specific group of specialists working to help the at-risk pangolin. To donate to its efforts, visit here. To find more groups doing pangolin-related conservation work, visit here. Another simple way to support pangolins: Simply bring up the animal’s plight in conversations around wildlife trafficking. The most illegally trafficked animal globally is often overlooked — and you can have a role in making its hardship known. 6. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing accounts for an estimated 11-26 million metric tons of fish each year. That massive amount of fish is worth between $10 billion and $23 billion per year. Overfishing has devastating effects on the environment and global economy, leading to a depletion of fish populations, price increases in the market and the loss of livelihood for fishermen engaged in legal fishing practices. Due to illegal and unregulated fishing, global fish populations have become severely threatened — which is a major cause for concern. Fish are a basic source of protein for nearly 3 billion people around the world. Threatening their populations not only threatens ocean biodiversity and health, but also the livelihood of global communities that rely on fish as nourishment. How you can help: Support organizations working to eliminate illegal fishing, like the World Wildlife Fund, Oceana or the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. But also take it a step further by keeping tabs on your own fish consumption. Start with this smart seafood resource, and then go global with these international resources. To learn more about the complex issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, visit here.

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