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Bo Derek: We all must battle wildlife traffickers

By Bo Derek
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Bo Derek is an actress who starred in the movie "10." Most recently, she starred in the series "Fashion House." She is also an activist working extensively to raise awareness of the costs of wildlife trafficking. She submitted this commentary to CNN's Larry King Live


Actress Bo Derek is working with conservation groups and the U.S government to help fight wildlife traffickers.

SANTA YNEZ, California (CNN) -- When I first visited the Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve, I expected to see an untouched paradise. While it is still beautiful to the naked eye, behind the scenes, all is not well. While there, I learned that the famous sharks of the Galapagos were under siege for their fins.

According to the Galapagos National Park Service, up to 10,000 fins have been seized, and they are mercilessly hacked off the shark and shipped to Asia to make shark fin soup.

I was charmed by the playfulness of the fearless and friendly sea lions I swam with. I learned that they, too, are sometimes slaughtered so they can be used as bait for the shark "finners."

It made me realize that even the most remote wilderness is now touched by the global economy -- in this case, the demand for products derived from protected wildlife.

That is why I have been working with the State Department and the San Francisco-based conservation organization, WildAid, to help in their effort to stop wildlife traffickers.

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The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion a year, according to the U.S. State Department, and it traffics in all wild things from shark fins to elephant ivory, from rare orchids to valuable timber. It leaves behind a catalog of species on the brink of extinction and millions of animals suffering either a brutal death or inhumane transportation, and it poses a serious risk of transmission of diseases like avian flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Since becoming involved, I have been appalled to learn there may be only 3,000 tigers surviving in the wild, according to a survey from India's government. A 2006 report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources says that's down from about 100,000 tigers just 100 years ago.

If they and other precious wildlife are to survive, there has to be a change. Not only do the governments of the world need to redouble their protection efforts, but we must end the demand that drives this trade.

The war on drugs has graphically demonstrated that focusing on enforcement and interdiction is not the only key to victory in this fight. We must also educate people and reduce demand for these products.

In the key markets, like China, awareness is so low that, according to a Chinese wildlife conservation association survey, 75 percent of people didn't know that the popular "fish wing soup" eaten by 35 percent of urban Chinese last year was made from shark fin, and many thought the fins grew back.

Reaching China's 1.2 billion people is no easy task, but by recruiting the likes of Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Chinese Olympic medalists as eloquent and passionate advocates, and with the support of Chinese state media, we are reaching nearly half the Chinese population with TV, messaging, "when the buying stops, the killing can, too." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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