How Wildlife Decline Leads to Slavery and Terrorism

The harvest of wild animals each year injects more than $400 billion dollars into the world economy. That harvest provides 15% of the planet's human population with a livelihood. It's the primary source of animal protein for more than a billion of our species. It's also led to piracy, slavery, and terrorism.

The over-harvest of wild animals, both from land and sea, has created a market defined by low supply and high demand. And that, according to UC Berkeley environmental scientist Justin S. Brashares and colleagues, has led to the proliferation of organized crime in some of the poorest parts of the world. Over-hunting and over-fishing have, at least in part, created conditions where human trafficking and terrorism can thrive.

The reason this is the case comes down to simple economics. "Wildlife declines often necessitate increased labor to maintain yields," argues Brashares in this week's issue of Science Magazine. To acquire increasingly scarce resources without the simultaneous increase in costs, "harvesters of wildlife resort to acquiring trafficked adults and children…A vicious cycle ensues, as resource depletion drives harvesters to increase their use of forced labor to stay competitive."

When it comes to fishing, for example, fishermen have to travel farther out to sea, stay longer, and fish deeper just to get the kind of piscine bounty that their grandfathers could get far more easily. Rather than paying workers for the extra days and hours required, many have turned to slavery. Thai fishing operators are increasingly purchasing Burmese, Cambodian, and Thai men. They are forced to remain at sea for years without pay, often working for 18 or 20 hours at a time. "Starvation, physical abuse, and murder are common on these vessels," write the researchers.

Click over to Conservation Magazine to read the rest of this important piece.

Header image: Children enslaved for fishing labor in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, 2010. Copyright Lisa Kristine, used with permission.