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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Black Market: Inside the Endangered Species Trade in India
An Earth Aware Editions: Manufactured by Palace Press International, China
by Ben Davies and Adam Oswell.
US $ 29.95
Shivani Shah

Leave your conscience behind, then pick your copy of the Black Market. Most likely, initially, you’ll flip through the pages, attracted by the large black-and-white images that will make you flinch and put it away. After all Black Market, as is evident, deals with a subject matter of the capture and horrific slaughter of a million animals worldwide.

But within seconds, it’s in your hands again, you find yourself leafing through the Chimp Champ, Jane Goodall’s introduction and you’ll agree with what she has to say, "It is beautifully written in elegant prose imbued with a sense of urgency and drama that make each page fascinating and encourages one to the end, despite the often grim and discouraging subject matter."

Listless bodies dangle in dozens, savagely gouged out eyes stare at you while you attempt to read about this, wildlife trade, the second most organised crime in the world, only after the nefarious cartel of drugs and arms and ammunition. Yes, it is one of the biggest crime rackets in the world and too little is known. And this is made easier by the latest weapons of technology. Mobile phones and easier connectivity via airplanes have provided smugglers with a better invisibility cloak so to say. So what would you like? Beaks, eggs, bones, claws, penises, kneecaps, horns, hooves, tusks, shark fins or simply a songbird? Dial a tiger penis, get the right person, and you will have it delivered to you within no time at all. Eat some of it everyday and "the penis make you strong," according to the Chinese Jinbu or, quite literally, "you are what you eat" culture. China may be the end of many a road in this intricate labyrinth, but each country is equally involved in this Culture of Killing. Americans fancy exquisite pets, as do Europeans, women fancy fur and perfumes lingering from their otherwise dainty selves, Chinese and Cambodians desire deadly delicacies as much as the Vietnamese or the Thai. Orangutans embellish safari parks or serve as ‘cute, cuddly pets.’

Demand is promptly met with, consequences are inconsequential. Crocs folded perfectly and tied up in tape to escape detection, hundreds of scaly anteaters stuffed in square cardboard boxes, bear claws pulled out of their massive bleeding bodies, or bile carelessly extracted from ill-fitted catheters, snakes pickled to be relished as wine, elephant legs stumped into stools, turtles, frogs, rhinos, birds, butterflies, there is no exception. When you think that you have had enough, that it could not get worse, there is another gory revelation brought to your notice. Bloody details stain your thoughts, lingering in your head long after you have read them. Following lines seem a blur, till you have gathered your thoughts and reread stuff. And if you close your eyes, the beady brown eyes of an agonised chimp on the cover reflects the iron of the cage into which it has been stuffed for god knows when.

Ancient History explains how for thousands of years, man has engaged in animal trade for various reasons. "In 400 B.C., a Greek physician is said to have transported a plum-headed parrot from India to teach it Greek." Pregnant women were advised to place rhino horn below their bed to alleviate birth pangs. That, however, was in the yesteryears, when animal numbers were high, superstition prevalent and massacre out of question. Today, numbers are no issue. Day after dreadful day, hundreds of creatures are silenced to meet the growing demand. Jungles are being emptied of their life. Silence shrieks, sharp piercing shrieks. And Extinction is Really Forever. All this while international bodies such as the CITES or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna meets and crafts Paper Tiger. "CITES is only as good as its implementation," "If they fail, the killing will go on."

Killing, in fact, has gone on for way too long, the Countdown to Extinction explains. From over 300 species of elephant present on Planet Earth, two survive, lingering on the thread of survival. Tonnes of elephant tusk are exported every year, everything, almost everything goes unintercepted. Demand for this ‘white gold’ has skewed elephant populations so much that in India’s Kerala, there is only one male to 122 potential females. Trade did not cease despite the international ban on ivory and governments are ready to call off the ban. Cambodia’s national animal, the kouprey, died an unsung death by the 90s, explains Hunter Weiler, an ex-poacher and passionate American conservationist. Chiru or Tibetan antelope are ‘fleeced’ and massacred to be woven into fine shatoosh shrouds, draped over damsels. Whale sharks are no better off. It’s opening a Pandora’s box.

And yet, poaching is just a cog in the wheel driving our wildlife to extinction. It’s easy to give up hope having read as much as this. But, Black Market ends most appropriately with The Battle for Conservation. Growing awareness of the repercussions of this deadly trade and the need to preserve our wildlife is turning the tide in favour of wildlifers, conservationists and humanity at large. A growing number of organisations are attempting to thwart wildlife wars. Consignments are more regularly intercepted at busy airports and deserted roadways, live animals are kept at rescue centres till they are fit to be released back into the wild. Hope and the will to fight are helping to save the last vestiges. Black Market could not be more aptly timed, reminding both spectators and warriors of their role in this relay.

© Shivani Shah October 2008
Shivani is a freelance writers currently working with Greenpeace, India
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