As a country with wide jungle and riveted areas, Guyana’s wildlife is often heavily sold to tourists and locals alike. While the popular comment says that any publicity is good publicity, the focus on our wildlife has had and continues to have disastrous effects on our environment, our communities and our economy.
To date, Guyana is one of the largest exporters of wild-caught animals in South America. With the savannahs and wetlands of Rupununi full of biodiversity, it remains the most popular location for the illegal capture, transportation and sale of wildlife.
For many people living in native and rural areas, hunting of wild animals is mainly on the basis of subsistence and for sale at their local markets. This of course does not suffer any significant harm, as local populations are often well informed about how to maintain wildlife survival. However, when it comes to wildlife conservation and protection, many still assume they are being forced to give up their subsistence practices. Instead, conservation efforts focus on ensuring the survival of wildlife species while still maintaining a person’s livelihood. These are often done through seasonal hunting seasons and limiting the capture of non-populated species, many of which are already practiced by native and rural populations.
With the high demand for wild meat in urban areas and neighboring countries, however, many communities and the wildlife around them are under constant threat. More and more people from across the Coast and neighboring countries are joining the illegal wildlife trade industry because of the high prices that wild meat and exotic species can fetch in some markets.
This of course has direct effects on biodiversity as protected and threatened species are targeted. This increase also often threatens the safety and food security of local populations. The prevalence of illegal wildlife trade threatens not only the continuation of endangered species that are important to our ecosystem but also affects land use and accelerates the march of climate change.
The nature of the illicit trade and its associated markets makes it difficult to identify how much is involved and estimate the cost of the local industry itself. Annually however, the worldwide illegal wildlife market is worth up to £ 17bn. The wildlife trade appears to be an equal opportunity one where it is not only restricted to specific species such as Tapirs and Arapaimas, but also poses a serious threat to wildlife such as jaguars, Scarlet Macaws, singing birds, reptiles and arthropods.
What can be gleaned from this is that the industry is a very broad and profitable type of organized crime. Our permeable borders add to the viability of the illegal trade and encourage free movement between neighboring countries while still maintaining the main export markets in countries such as Singapore and the USA. However, in terms of enforcement, very little has been done because illegal wildlife trade is often not considered a real crime but one manufactured by foreign conservationists. As a result, criminals largely continue their illegal trade with kindness, harming people and the environment in the process.
In terms of the effects of the illegal wildlife trade on individuals and their communities, this is often unexplored especially against the background in which many members of the community are involved in the illegal trade. With limited job opportunities in many vernacular and rural areas, many people accept work as guides for illegal hunters in an effort to protect their livelihoods.
Although these illegal hunters are not from the community, their reliance on local people to help provide information, accommodation, food etc. often forces many locals to participate in the illegal underground economy as they are not does the formal economy have incentives for them. Therefore schemes looking at reducing illegal hunting must reduce focus not only on public education efforts around conservation, land concerns and wildlife protection, but must also look at the lack of economic opportunities that drive local communities to take already involved in the trade. In order for the group to become genuinely interested in sustainable development, they must first be provided with access to income generating activities that are not dependent on the exploitation of their natural resources.