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Wildlife Witness to stop the slaughter

Think local

Taronga Zoo’s male sun bear, Mr Hobbs, is one of the lucky ones.

Destined as a baby for bear paw soup, the cub was rescued by an Australian visiting Cambodia, and arrangements and extensive planning was undertaken to bring the baby bear to Taronga Zoo.

The figures for wildlife slaughter, death and imprisonment on a global scale are now truly staggering. Today alone, 100 elephants will be killed and 12,000 bears are sitting in cages as part of the world demand for wildlife products.

According to conservationists, across Africa, elephants are still being slaughtered by poachers in record numbers and their tusks hacked off with Chainsaws to make luxury items such as statues and trinkets in Asia.

Thailand is currently the world’s largest unregulated ivory market and a top driver of this illegal trade. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says it’s heartbreaking to hear conservationists use the term "killing frenzy” to describe the extent of elephant poaching that is currently being witnessed.

But in the darkness of desperation, a tiny ray of hope has emerged with the launch of a new free mobile app called Wildlife Witness, which allows travellers to report abuses they witness across the globe in the hope of, as Taronga Zoo states, "Helping us all to spill the secrets of wildlife trade criminals and reduce the threat of illegal trade and the future of our wildlife.”

The app has been developed in conjunction with Taronga Conservation Society and TRAFFIC — The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network - which is a joint project between the WWF and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Taronga’s manager of visitor experience and learning. Paul Maguire tells Peninsula Living the app is fantastic because it raises awareness of what is happening to these animals and enables tourists to report abuses.

"This is a dangerous trade - not only for the animals but for people who can observe the abuses,” he says.

"There are kingpins and criminal networks running these operations, so in making the app, we needed to find a safe and anonymous way for people to observe and report offences.”

This type of illegal trade affects countless other animals including tigers, reptiles, sharks and primates like orangutans.

Mr Maguire says TRAFFIC operates a global wildlife-monitoring network based in more than 30 counties. They investigate the incidence of this illegal trade and work with national crime authorities, and they also educate people on these issues.

“The high market prices and low levels of enforcement make illegal wildlife trade appealing to international criminal networks. Over the past 20 years, I have been alarmed at the numbers of animals being killed and becoming extinct or endangered on our watch - time is of the absolute essence but so far we seem to have been fighting a losing battle.” he says sadly.

Taronga Zoo keeper Lesley Small says walking past the sun bear exhibit at the zoo, it’s hard for visitors to imagine Mr Hobbs had such a sad and frightening beginning to his life.

"In 1995, Mr Hobbs was born in a Cambodian forest and while he was still a very young cub, he was taken from the wild and his mother despite her fierce attempts to protect him from harm.

"Sun bears like Mr Hobbs are traditionally used in Cambodia in the restaurant and traditional medicine trade where bear paw soup is considered a delicacy and consumers flaunt their wealth by buying it for themselves and their guests,” Ms Small says.

"Mr Hobbs and two females that were rescued were given to free the Bears — an organisation that raises funds for projects supporting bear conservation and rescue - and the founder Mary Hutton contacted Taronga Zoo to see if they could be accommodated here. The zoo spent almost two years working with both the Cambodian government and Australian government to oomplete the first ever memorandum of understanding to bring the bears legally from Cambodia to Australia.”

Ms Small says she is hopeful the new Wildlife Witness app will be a "valuable tool" that lets everyday people alert wildlife authorities in South East Asia and elsewhere.

"Now visitors and locals, particularly in hotspots around Asia, can photograph and report any suspicious incidents where they see trapped, caged wildlife or animal products being sold in the market place or restaurants offering illegally-poached animals,” she explains.

Taronga director Cameron Kerr confirms his support for the development of the app and says it will become one of the most powerful tools in the fight to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

"This trade is now worth at least $19 billion dollars annually and is a huge threat globally and something must be done." he says.

When Prince Wlliam visited Taronga Zoo last year, he was introduced to the new app and pledged his support for its marketing and global advertising.

"Prince William is very passionate about this cause,” Mr Maguire tells Peninsula Living.

“He is concerned about what’s happening on a global scale and does not want these animals to become extinct.”

At the end of last year, the Prince gave a groundbreaking speech in New York where he said poachers were “looting the planet”. Addressing attendees at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance conference, the Duke of Cambridge announced the formation of an international taskforce to help tackle the problem. He accused organised criminal gangs of "looting the planet to feed mankind's ignorant craving for exotic pets, trinkets, cures and ornaments”.

He also linked the work of these gangs with terrorism – swapping poached ivory for guns.

Communications manager at Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Lisa Keen, who resides in Narrabeen, says she has no doubt travellers from the peninsula will embrace the app.
“Swneysiders, and in particular Northern Beaches locals, are such great travellers - they are responsible and they love to get involved in the local culture. So with wildlife in such peril, I'm sure they’ll want to help in any way theycan and this app is a safe way to do that,” Ms Keen explains.

“If you see things in market places like caged monkeys,or ivory and snake skins being sold, you can report it anonymously from the privacy of your hotel room. The app really puts the power in the hands of the travellers.”


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