COLUMBUS, Ohio — The research journal, Science, recently published a study linking wildlife deterioration to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery. The article discussed how a decrease in species around the world has become a catalyst for violent conflict and encouraged organized crime.
Due to shortages in the availability of wild animals, including ocean life, there is a growing need for more labor to find food in countries. Unfortunately, children are often used to fill this void and are forced to work under horrible conditions for meager or no wages.
This trend is especially prevalent in the fishing industry. Fisheries around the world are suffering and need to travel longer distances in brutal conditions to find their catch for the day.
The decline in resources has allowed for the growth of illegal human trafficking and slavery. For example, in Asia, men from Burma, Cambodia and Thailand are being kidnapped, sold to fishing boats and forced to work 18-20 hour days.
Off the coast of Somalia, the shortage of fish led to increased competition, which in turn caused a rise in piracy. In order to ensure survival, fisherman began going out with guns to control groups illegally fishing in their waters. While this began with the intention of protecting the Somali fishing industry, some began to realize that they could kidnap and ransom boats—making more money than they could by fishing.
In Africa, deforestation has led to a hasty depletion of hunted animals. As a result, people have to travel for days to find prey whereas they used to find food easily in neighboring forests. Now hunters have been turning to children to extract wildlife from areas far away.
The leader of the study, Professor Justin Brashares, explained the relationship between the environment and the exploitation of human life.
“There’s a direct link between the scarcity of wildlife, the labor demands of harvests and this dramatic increase in child slavery,” Brashares said.
Apart from child and slave labor, the depletion of wildlife also aids the rise of terrorism and conflict in regions.
Insurgent groups including Janjaweed, the Lord’s Resistance Army, Al-Shaba and Boko Haram have all reportedly been involved in poaching ivory and rhino horn to fund terrorist attacks. Given that the value of these items have gone up because of the shortage in wildlife, powerful and dangerous groups have exploited the market by trafficking and furthering their ability to fund weapons and recruits.
While in a developed country citizens do not often rely on hunting wild animals for survival, in other parts of the world it could mean life or death. According to the article in Science, harvesting wild animals from land and sea is worth $400 billion annually.
More importantly, it supports the incomes and well-being of 15 percent of the world’s population.
Although many argue that to remedy the situation there should be stricter laws and punishments for traffickers, the researchers emphasized that this solution was short sighted — merely a temporary fix for a symptom of a much greater problem.
The study observed that real solutions lie in an increased effectiveness of local governments and compromise. If local governments gave fishers and hunters exclusive access to harvest specific areas, researchers argued that social tension and conflict could be greatly reduced.
“It’s not surprising that the loss of this critical piece of human livelihoods has huge social consequences,” Brashares said. “Yet, both conservation and political science have generally overlooked these fundamental connections.”
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. The authors have called for experts from a number of fields—biologists, political scientists, economists–to work together to find a solution to this vicious cycle. The authors cite organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United for Wildlife Collaboration—calling them to step up. However, researchers noted that these organizations will need help from multiple outlets to address the decline in wildlife at the local level.
While the problem will inevitably involve a complex set of remedies, ignoring the relationship between wildlife and conflict will not only allow for the continued destruction of our environment but will aid in the continued dehumanization of innocent people.
– Caroline Logan