Research co-led by environmentalists at HKU and Lingnan reveals that wealth inequality is the main driver of global wildlife trade
It has been commonly believed that wildlife products are exported from low-income countries to meet consumer demand in wealthy economies, and therefore a growing wealth gap can increase the volume of world trade and endanger wildlife.
Recently, a research team co-led by the Research Division for Ecology and Biodiversity (E&B), the Faculty of Science, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Scientific Unit (SU) of Lingnan University (LU) corroborated this premise by analyzing wildlife trade databases. The research team includes Dr Jia Huan LIEW, Research Assistant Professor at SU, and Professor Emeritus David DUDGEON of E&B, HKU. Their results are published in Science Advances.
Richer countries bear much of the blame
One of the main takeaways from the study was that rich countries are responsible for most of the global wildlife trade. The top three importers of wildlife were the United States, France and Italy, while in Asia the wealthiest countries, including China, Singapore and Japan, were all net importers of products from the wild. from wildlife. On the supply side, countries with better logistics capacities (eg Indonesia) also exported more wildlife products.
Hong Kong has long been a global hub for the legal wildlife trade, importing around 13 million individual animals between 1998 and 2018. In particular, the city was a major destination for fish, sharks and rays.
Researchers looked at 20 years of data on the legal trade in wildlife, ranging from live corals for hobbyists, to wild sturgeons for aquaculture, and seahorses for traditional remedies. During this period, around 421 million individual animals were traded worldwide, and the market was larger when there was greater inequality of wealth between countries.
The study’s findings may have important implications in a post-pandemic world, where issues surrounding wildlife trade are once again in the spotlight. The COVID-19 virus is believed to have spread to humans through the wildlife trade, including leading to a ban on the consumption of wild land animals in China. If increased regulation can suppress trade in the short term, the impact of the pandemic on the global economy will likely worsen wealth inequalities between nations by disproportionately affecting parts of the world. This, according to research findings which show a positive correlation between wealth inequality and the extent of the global wildlife market, could further encourage international trade in wildlife products.
There were marked inequalities between exporters and importers of wildlife products, and importers were generally better off on all measures of socio-economic well-being. For example, the largest trading partnership the study recorded was between the United States (importer) and Indonesia (exporter), where the per capita GDP of the United States was 20 times that of Indonesia. Other important trade flows include Jamaica’s exports to France (GDP per capita of importers 8 times higher) and Indonesia’s exports to Singapore (GDP per capita of importers 17 times higher).
Want to reduce the demand for animal products
Inequalities in the wildlife market and the dominant role of rich countries highlight the importance of efforts to reduce demand for wildlife products through awareness campaigns or product substitution, among others. “One message is that it is obviously demand from richer countries that is fueling the capture and trade of wildlife in poor / low-income countries. This means that it is the responsibility of affluent consumers in rich countries to do something to limit their demands and their greed for animal products, ”says Professor Emeritus Dudgeon.
It may also be a more socially equitable approach than a blanket ban on the exploitation of wildlife that could impact vulnerable communities dependent on trade. “Globally, we need to manage the wildlife trade in a way that does not endanger their populations and the communities that depend on them for a source of protein or an important source of livelihood,” says the Minister. Dr Janice LEE, assistant professor at the Asian School of the Environment.
For the article in Science Advances:
Download images and captions: https://www.scifac.hku.hk/press