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An example of why it is so hard to protect endangered species


$31. That's how much Namibian courts fined a man for trying to sell two pangolins, one of the country's most endangered species.

The magistrate in charge of the case called the sentence "ridiculously low," but acknowledged that it was all that was allowed under what The Namibian newspaper called "a badly outdated law."

Namibia isn't the only country whose laws fail to protect wildlife from illegal trade. No matter where  you look in the world, the punishments for trade in endangered species barely exist.

In fact, the illegal wildlife trade has become much more profitable -- and much safer -- than gun-running or drug trafficking. Punishments are minimal, and prosecution rates are abysmal. Why wouldn't a criminal -- or a criminal network -- turn to poaching and transporting endangered species if they knew they would barely be punished if they were caught?

This isn't exactly a new development. Back in 2002, a WWF report (PDF) said that wildlife trade offences "are frequently regarded as low priority (even though they are on the increase); because wildlife law enforcement is ad hoc; and because of the often derisory penalties imposed upon the few wildlife offenders who are brought to justice."

So what do we do about this? Laws need to change, and the public needs to put pressure on governments to prosecute wildlife crimes. Laws reflect what people care about, and until the people speak up, nothing is going to change.

Previously in Extinction Blog: Organized crime could drive elephant to extinction; Endangered species trade brings meth plague to South Africa