To Save Protected Sun Bears, Farming Is Not the Answer

I was disappointed that a newspaper as respected as The Cambodia Daily would publish such a controversial, one-sided and inaccurate article as the account by Gabrielle Ward entitled “We Can Save Protected Sun Bears by Eating Them” (August 20), without also printing a truthful counter.

It is clear from the article that Ms. Ward has neither knowledge nor interest in the conservation of wildlife. Her concerns clearly revolve solely around making money. Indeed if her arguments were valid, conservation organizations would all be farming wildlife as an aid to preserving wild species. The fact is, the reverse is true. Farming wildlife purely creates a legal market for an illegal trade and wild-caught animals are sold under the guise of being captive bred.

The Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team, the unit implemented to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia, which was created following meetings between the Cambodian Forestry Administration and Wildlife Alliance, has confiscated more than 100 bears during the 14 years the team has been operating. When questioned, offenders usually tell us that the captured bears are destined for bear bile farms in Vietnam.

Ms. Ward gave the fatuous and self-defeating argument of farming cattle, stating that cows are not in danger of extinction because they are farmed. Domestic cattle are certainly not in danger of extinction, but if we take two local examples of wild cattle, the Banteng, which is now an endangered species and the Kouprey, which is now extinct, we see that her example is either inaccurate or invalid.

Indeed, three well-known species in the region that are currently being farmed—the Siamese crocodile, the long-tailed macaque and the tiger—make good counter arguments for Ms. Ward’s ridiculous claims.

The Siamese crocodile is now one of the most endangered species in Cambodia. The fact that crocodiles have been farmed here for many years has in no way stemmed this decline. Hybridization in farms with escaped animals finding their way into water systems has caused further damage.

The Cambodian government has granted licenses to macaque farms, which are intended to supply the world’s pharmaceutical laboratories. According to law, wild long-tailed macaques should not be sold, but kept for breeding purposes. Only captive-born macaques can be sold legally. Unfortunately, wild macaques are still captured and sold and macaque numbers have plummeted in areas that used to hold good populations of the species be­cause of this trade.

Tigers are farmed in several countries, including China. This species is perhaps the most charismatic and beautiful animal that has ever lived and yet we seem incapable of saving it with wild numbers now at critically low levels in most countries where they exist in the wild. Of course the tiger is functionally extinct in China, the country that used to hold four of the nine different wild tiger subspecies, three of which are now extinct. China still farms tigers for consumption today.

Captive breeding as an aid to conservation in the form of reintroductions has proved beneficial for many species, including the golden lion tamarin, the Cali­fornia condor and the Arabian oryx. Sadly, farming wild animals for human consumption has done the opposite.

Nick Marx is the director of Wild­life Rescue and Care Programs at Wildlife Alliance in Cambodia.

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