Poached ivory being burned in Namibia.
Photo: Jonathan and Angela
The hard truth is there are no international rules set in stone telling a country how it should treat its wildlife. There are 194 recognized countries in the world (not including Antarctica) of various sizes and climates, and each has a different view on wildlife protection. Some of these countries destroyed the brunt of their wildlife population decades or even centuries ago, while others had less of a wildlife population to begin with. We've got jungle, tundra, desert, countries the size of other continents, countries a person can walk across in a day, and even a country that is a continent (hi, Australia)--attempting to decide which five nations are doing the worst job protecting endangered species is an impossible and ultimately unproductive task.
But of the five countries listed below, four are in need of a serious wake-up call.
Finless porpoise at the Tongling Freshwater Dolphin Nature Reserve in Tongling of Anhui Province, China.
Photo: China Photos
Pollution in the Yangtze River
Maybe you've heard of the world's most populous country, the one with 20 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world? Yes, we're talking about China. The third longest river on Earth, the Yangtze, once one of the most biologically diverse regions on the planet, has become so polluted that the endangered species list has grown as crowded as the river traffic that's helped drop the numbers of the Chinese alligator, finless porpoise, Yangtze giant salamander, and others. Sadly the Baiji, a freshwater dolphin, may in fact be extinct.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a Major Culprit
In 1993, China imposed a ban on the domestic trade of tiger bones, and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) removed tiger bone from its official pharmacopoeia. Chinese communities in North America, however, continue to sell products with tiger bone as an ingredient.
Other endangered animals, specifically the rhinoceros, have not been so lucky and continue to be used in TCM.
A lot of poachers would find themselves out of jobs if their top destination, China, did more to stop the source of the problem, the promotion, advertising, and production of traditional medicines claiming to contain parts of these animals. Ivory, saiga horns, rare reptiles, bear paws, macaques, owls, and so on are constantly being seized at Chinese airports, but as demand continues, so does supply. Even captive tigers are not safe. Two tigers have been killed in the last 12 months at the Yichang Zoo in Hubei for their parts.
A golden lion tamarin in the Poco das Antes Biological Reserve, Brazil.
Photo: Kevin Schafer
A Reuters article this summer on Brazil's nature reserves reported that, of
"299 protected areas, 57 percent have no permanent law enforcement officials, 76 percent have no management plan, and nearly one-third have no manager."While the article also mentions things Brazil is doing to try to combat the ranchers, miners, loggers, and poachers who are decimating the Amazon, park guards continue to be too few and too poorly supplied to protect the millions of acres at stake. The current environment minister Carlos Minc, who recently replaced rubber tapper Marina Silva, admitted that in some years, the deforestation rates in so-called protected areas of the Amazon were actually higher than in the unprotected areas. While Minc and the Brazilian government have made a very public stand against deforestation, INCRA (the Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform), a government department, is responsible for much of the present deforestation. With the highest biodiversity rate in the world, Brazil’s Amazonian rainforests can’t get help fast enough.