314th Meeting - Tuesday, August 18th 2009


Wildlife in Asia is in Crisis

A talk and presentation by Adam Oswell, Director of the Wildlife1 Foundation  

Present: Celeste Holland, Monika Weter, Paul Fihn, Steve Smith, Paul Mahoney, Renee Vines, Brian Oswell and his charming wife Jackie, Carole Beauclerk, David James, Hans and Sangdao Bänziger, David Steane, Thomas Ohlson, Martin Callaway, Sjon Hauser. An audience of 16.

After drugs and arms, the poaching, sale and consumption of exotic wild animals is probably the most lucrative crime on the planet, worth over an estimated US$10 billion annually. The trade is increasing rapidly in Asia due to booming demand and massive economic growth in the region. 

It is also one of the fastest growing areas of international crime. Recent reports also reveal that some of the proceeds are being diverted to assist terrorist groups. Wary of the strict policing and penalties for drugs and arms, some terrorist organizations are now turning to wildlife. 

People need to be inspired and educated now more than ever before. The world is in the midst of a global environmental crisis. We are loosing species and habitats faster than we are saving them and in Asia the issue is critical. 

We the people, the dominant species on Earth, are rapidly losing the memory of what makes nature natural. Pastures become parking lots. Blue skies choke on molecules they were never meant to hold. Hearts that have beaten in the chests of species for eons are going silent. And as the natural world disappears, as we humans live our modern lives of relentless techno-consumerism, our inner landscape changes as well. Choked by the speed of the digital age and confused by purveyors of the useless, we succumb to a pervasive nature deficit disorder.

Photography can help us remember and reclaim our identities as an integral part of the natural world. The photographic act is an act of love, forcing the image maker to stop, look, and look again, to feel whatever it is he or she has seen, and perhaps even to assimilate some aspect of the scene into the core of his or her being. It is a way of saying: Wait, let’s pay attention -- I saw this thing, this moment, had this experience, and it was important to me and it just might be important to you, if you were to see it, too. Photography is thus an antidote to the disorientation of our time; it replaces fragmentation with focus, forgetting with memory and indifference with affection.

For the first time in human history, more people now live in urban environments than rural ones. Collectively we are losing the close relationship we once had with the natural systems that support us all and thus our basic respect and appreciation for these systems. As a result of this the majority of people are unaware of the great loss that is currently occurring on our planet.

Thailand was until very recently covered largely in ancient forests rich with an incredible diversity of species. People enjoyed rivers and wetlands full of fish and forests teaming with a seemingly endless amount of natural resources that were an integral part of culture and society.

Now as we enter the beginning of the 21st century, Thailand and indeed the world, faces an unprecedented human challenge. The loss of species due largely to a massive global trade is now seriously threatening the viability of ecosystems. The same ecosystems our lives depend on.

Wildlife is in crisis all over the world, especially in Asia, with many species driven closer to extinction every day. Less than nine percent of the earth has been set aside for protected areas and there is constant pressure from development and commercial activities to reduce these areas even further.

The business of selling wildlife is now so rampant and the volumes involved so large there is a real and imminent threat that if it is not stopped or significantly reduced very soon we will lose the natural diversity that is essential for earth to function effectively.

The images in this presentation are testament to both the beauty and the destruction. There is much at stake. Attitudes must change if the human enterprise is to proceed. The choice is ours.


ADAM OSWELL is an Australian photographer and producer focusing on conservation issues in Asia. He has worked for Bloomberg News, The South China Morning Post, TIME Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, Asian Geographic, The World Conservation Union (IUCN), The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), WildAid, WWF International and the United Nations Development Program.

Based in Thailand since 1986 and traveling extensively in the region for over 20 years, he has witnessed first-hand the rapid destruction of the regions biodiversity as a result of massive economic growth and development. For the past 10 years he has focused on wildlife conservation and the battle against the trade in endangered species.