Invasive species are groups of organisms that are unnaturally occurring to an area. When introduced, they can cause economic and physical harm to humans and ecosystems. The importing, legally and illegally, of invasive species into our society is not only harmful to our population and our ecosystem but also the population of plants and animals in their indigenous homeland. To continue, the smuggling of plants and animals into new ecosystems is caused by a number of reasons. In terms of money to be made, illegal wildlife smuggling is second to illegal drugs, with illegal arms trade right behind.
The U. S. State Department reports that this industry is worth around ten billion dollars a year. Plants and animals are commonly imported into this country for luxury items, ethnic foods, and traditional medicines. Furthermore, numerous exotic species of animals are trafficked into this country every year, anything from snakes to tarantulas to birds. The most common contraband would be birds; around five million a year is the U. S. State Department’s estimate. Eleven different illegally obtained pets were found in a Singapore apartment, including scorpions, pythons, and various lizards.
It is said that millions of turtles, snakes, crocodiles, skinks, sugar gliders, snails, bees, and many other reptiles, mammals, and insects are illegally smuggled in every year. Our ecosystem is greatly affected by foreign invaders, be them plant or animal. Invasive species can carry diseases or containments that endanger the well being of native humans, plants, animals, and environment. They posses the ability to damage indigenous water and food supplies. Many invaders will take advantage of resources and lack of predators in a new ecosystem, which in turn can lead to extinction of our own plants and animals.
The Mountain Pine Beetle is responsible for the destruction of three point six million acres of trees in Colorado and Wyoming. Fire ants are known to cause ground-nesting birds to leave their nests and killing newborn deer and cattle. Burmese Pythons pose a huge threat to small mammals, have no natural predators in the United States, and are currently destroying the Florida Everglades. Alternately, the affect on the imported species’ ecosystem is just as great. By removing native species from their ecosystem, it harms the balance, endangering not only the ecosystem, but also the safety of the species.
In fact, nine out of ten birds caught for the wildlife trades die before they reach their final destination, with anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000 parrot chicks being stolen from their nests every year. The plant world is affected too; annually an area the size of the British Isles of rainforest is destroyed. The Thai elephant population, since the nineteenth century, has been reduced to merely five percent of the 100,000 in a little less than 100 years due to poaching and loss of habitat.
Tigers are an endangered species, yet, for every one tiger in a zoo, there are ten privately owned, some being starved to death to make an expensive Chinese wine. The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources estimates over twelve million wild animals are poached annually. The treatment of many imported animals is very poor, a conversationalist recalled a time he had seen a turtle that had been used for target practice by it’s new owners. In addition, even our human population is negatively affected.
With new, foreign species invading our ecosystem, foreign disease invade as well, such as SARS, avian flu, monkey pox, and other lethal diseases. Both animals and plants carry deadly diseases, contaminates, pathogens, and organisms. Some of the species are physically extremely harmful to the human population, such as killer bees and fire ants, sending thousands to the hospital every year. In 1988, Asian tiger mosquitoes were found in the United States, and are known to carry eastern equine encephalitis. Some wild reptiles, like the African Rock Python and the Tegu Lizard from South America are known to harm humans as a defense mechanism.
Also, invasive species affect the nation’s economy. It is reported that the damage from invasive species worldwide comes in at an estimated one point four trillion dollars, which is five percent of the global economy, billions spent on the control measures and property damage caused. Canadian geese have struck seventy-eight planes in the north east alone, causing two point two million dollars in aircraft damage, even the “Miracle on the Hudson” was caused by Canadian Geese. Florida completely eradicated African snails at the cost of one million dollars over ten years.
In New Zealand, coyotes were responsible for killing ten point seven million dollars worth of sheep, and the government spends millions of dollars annually to poison, trap, and shoot around 90,000 coyotes. Annually, starlings cause around $800 million in agricultural damage. In the effort to help protect the Great Lakes’ aquaculture seven point five billion dollar industry, which provides around 800,000 jobs, the Environmental Protection Agency built a nine point one million dollar electric barrier to keep out invasive fish, using another three million dollars to kill all in the lake.
Formosan termites annually cause around one billion dollars in property damage and control measures because of its ability to chew threw cement, brick, plastic, and wood. The importing and exporting of animals is based solely on the profit of it all. Latin America is a large wildlife exporter due to the rarity of its extraordinary biodiversity and rather poor overall economy. The United States is one of the largest wildlife importers, shipments of animals mostly coming from Mexico and plants from China.
The types of people trafficking in wildlife vary greatly from greedy criminals to scientists to unknowing children. A scientist in 1957 imported African Honey Bees to breed with native honey bees, unknowingly creating a dangerous combination of genes. In 1966, a small child had smuggled in three African Snails to Miami, later being released into his garden, breeding, and causing a very large, expensive problem for most of Florida. These foreign invaders come in various ways.
It has been reported that smugglers have hidden animals in thermoses, panty hose, toilet paper tubes, hair curlers, hubcaps, and more. When a reporter asked how he would get an animal onto an airplane, the experienced trafficker had said to “Give it vodka and put it in your pocket, it will be quiet. ” While small smuggling ventures can pass through pedestrian or personal vehicle paths, large volumes are likely to move over international shipping channels. Brown tree snakes went to Guam on U. S. military transport planes.
Fire ants are a bug from South America, spreading to the United States by floodwaters, trucks, trailers, and shipments. Formosan termites were accidentally shipped from Asia on crates after World War II. There is a great effort to change the plant and animal trafficking problem all over the world. In 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, also known as CITES, was created to enable the survival of over 5,000 animal and 28,000 plant species. Most CITES enforcement falls on individual countries to uphold wildlife trading law.
The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 criminalized the importation of many wild birds, while the European Union banned importation of all wild birds, and South American banned the trafficking and catching of wild parrots. Huge fines have also been enforced, such was the case in 2005, when an aquarium shop owner was fined $56,000 when he was attempting to smuggle 246 pieces of coral and thirty six giant clams into Singapore. Also, in 2004, twenty-two animals were seized from an apartment; the owner was fined $7,000.