Movie star to speak on ending wildlife trade

Bo Derek pushes to lower demand for exotic animals

American consumers contribute more to the global $10 billion to $20 billion illegal wildlife trade than any other nation except China — posing the threat of extinction for some endangered species, actress Bo Derek said in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Around the world, tigers, elephants, rhinos and exotic birds are bought and sold as trophies, rare edible delicacies and traditional medicines.

The actress, for years an animal rights activist, visited San Francisco as part of a mission to stop the vast illegal trafficking in wild animals. In the United States, the sale of wild tigers as exotic pets, the use of animal parts for medicines and the use of exotic snakeskins to make boots are relatively common, the actress said.

“Demand is so high. We’ve got to reduce demand,” Derek said.

Derek, along with Claudia McMurray, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans, environment and science, visited with local Asian-American leaders Wednesday morning in The City to discuss the use of products such as ground-up tiger bones, in the making of traditional

medicines. They also planned to speak at the World Affairs Council while in The City.

Many buyers are not aware they are purchasing illegal items that contribute to animals’ demise, Derek said.

There are about 5,000 tigers in the wild globally, down from 100,000 roughly a hundred years ago, McMurray said.

Derek, perhaps best known for the 1979 film “10,” has joined forces with the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, an International private-public partnership aimed at saving the endangered creatures.

“There’s only so much we can do [alone],” Derek said. “The global community must decide [how to stop it].”

So far, nations including Australia, India and the United Kingdom and several animal organizations such as World Wildlife Fund and WildAid, have joined the U.S.-led coalition.

About $1 million in federal funding has been allocated to the coalition, which is designed to focus public attention on the matter, ramp up enforcement and facilitate international cooperation.

A wild tiger fetches about $90,000 in India, a nation where the per capita income is less than $4,000, according to U.S. government data from 2005.

One way to create economic opportunities other than selling the animals is to foster eco-tourism, McMurray said. Another way to combat the illegal wildlife trade is enforcement, the State Department official said.

One possible way to combat the trade is to increase the number of customs officers who check packages, crates and luggage as they make their way into the United States, McMurray said.

McMurray told the story of a smuggler who was bringing rare bird eggs into the country until one of them hatched during his plane ride. The smuggler summarily flushed the young bird down the toilet, she said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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