HEADS UP: There is some cool new info about FunJungle 4 — including the name of the book — in the blog post below.
A few weeks ago, I got to meet some of the great unsung heroes on earth: the people who deal with wildlife crimes for the World Wildlife Fund.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Hold on. The World Wildlife Fund has an animal crimes division?”
And to be honest, I don’t blame you. I have donated plenty to the WWF over the years and paid a lot of attention to the work they do and yet, I was never aware they had a wildlife crimes division myself until an amazing woman named Giavanna Grein who works there reached out to me. Giavanna had read Big Game and liked how I dealt with the issue of poaching. Once I found out what she did, I immediately asked if I could talk to her. It turned out I was going to be in Washington DC where the WWF was headquartered, so she invited me to drop by and meet some of the team.
Giavanna specializes in fighting animal trafficking, which is the illegal movement of live animals (which are usually being smuggled into the country to be sold as pets) or animals parts (like elephant tusks or rhino horns). I would have been happy to simply meet with her, but to my surprise, she lined up an all-star crew of people for me to meet.
People like Nilanga Jayasinghe, who oversees all animal protection projects in Asia; Bas Huijbrets, who oversees animal protection projects in Africa — and Ben Freitas, who oversees all marine animal protection projects. Rachel Kramer and Robin Sawyer also worked to fight trafficking, while also specializing in wlidlife tech (Rachel) and reptiles (Robin). John Probert was working on wildlife protection technology while also specializing in giraffe protection. Karen Baragona is a panda protection specialist who also works to reduce demand for animal parts. And Crawford Allan has been fighting for animal protection for 25 years.
It was very exciting for me to meet all these incredibly impressive people. As those of you who read my blog know, the next book in the FunJungle series concerns giant pandas. But here are some things I haven’t revealed before: First of all, the book is going to be called Panda-Monium. Second, the crime at the center of the story is that a giant panda disappears en route from the San Diego Zoo to FunJungle. As I was playing around with this idea, it occurred to me that some potential culprits might be animal traffickers — and now, I have been able to meet with some of the biggest experts on animal trafficking on earth.
Also, I got to meet Karen, the panda protection specialist. Which was very exciting for both of us. She has a ten-year-old who likes my books. And I had been following the WWF’s work on panda conservation. In fact, I had already quoted a lot of facts from the WWF before I even knew I was going to meet Karen. So here we are, being all excited to meet each other:
So… what did I learn? Well, I learned some disturbing things about the state of animal conservation — and some good things too.
Here’s something disturbing: The USA might be the biggest culprit in animal trafficking in the world. I know a lot of time we like to point the finger at China, but our country might be just as bad when it comes to importing live animals and animal parts as China is. (Turns out, it is very hard to track this.) I even got to see some of the horrible things made from endangered animals that people have tried to smuggle into this country. Here some are:
First of all, here I am holding the skin of an entire tiger that was being smuggled into the country:
This is an ice bucket made of the foot of an elephant. Because, obviously, nothing is as cool as getting ice from the foot of a dead animal. (That’s sarcasm.)
Here’s a briefcase made of rhino skin:
Here are cowboy boots made from Pangolin scales. Pangolins, which are scaly anteaters from southeastern Asia, may be the most-trafficked animals on the planet:
And here is a belt made by Versace. Yes, Versace, the big, fancy French designer, is making belts with illegal animal parts.
Why anyone would want any of these items in their home (or on their bodies) is beyond me. And yet, there are people out there who don’t merely want to pay money for these things: They want them so badly, they are willing to break the law to get them.
Another disturbing thing: Giraffe poaching has gone up far more than I realized. I was well-aware that elephant and rhino poaching was on the rise, but I had never heard of anyone poaching a giraffe. Apparently, it’s happening, though.
But, there is good news too. The fine folks at the WWF are making progress in the fight to protect wildlife. Nilanga informed me that Nepal has now gone four years without a single rhino poaching incident. Four years! The things that have worked there — like making communities more invested in the fate of the animals — are now being tested in other countries as well. And John talked about how new technology, like drones, may make it easier for us to track wildlife — and find poachers.
Meanwhile, on the panda front, thanks in part to the work of people like Karen, the Chinese panda population is climbing — and several new panda reserves have been established, which don’t only protect pandas, but also other wildlife such as takins and snub-nosed monkeys.
If you want to help the WWF in their fight against animal crimes, there are things you can do.
First of all, don’t buy any illegal animal products — and help spread the word.
Second, be very careful about buying an exotic pet.
It turns out, a great number of the live animals being trafficked illegally aren’t big things like pandas, but smaller animals like reptiles, birds and fish, which are usually sold to everyday families as pets. If you are looking to buy an animal like this, ask the dealer lots of questions about where the animal came from. See if they can provide documentation that proves the animal was bred in captivity (which is legal) and not taken from the wild (which is probably illegal). Ask if they have a sustainability plan. And double-check their answers on Google. (For example, if they claim their rhino viper is from Asia, they’re lying. And also, don’t buy a rhino viper. It will kill you.)
If a dealer can’t answer your questions truthfully or provide the documentation you want, then maybe you shouldn’t be buying from them.
Finally, support the World Wildlife Fund. Every little bit helps. Click here to visit their website.
Thanks to Giavanna and everyone at the WWF for taking the time to meet with me — and for doing such important work around the world every day. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude!