It was good to see our photographer Neil walking again. We met at JFK airport Thursday morning. The last time we worked together was three weeks ago in Brazil, where after 10 days of shooting in the rainforest he had to check into a hospital for an unexplained leg condition.
It seems he was bitten by something that was causing his knee to swell so dramatically he couldn't walk. The doctors were a bit stumped. One of them said they pulled from his leg what looked like spider fangs (not an altogether unreasonable claim considering the critters we encountered) but Jeff Corwin blamed a form of prickly palm tree that when touched releases a bacteria into your skin that can cause infection. Neither scenario sounds pleasant and Neil never got a firm diagnosis. (Watch Corwin teach Cooper a painful lesson
Phil, our other photographer, didn't fare much better. After making fun of Neil's condition for nearly a week, Phil noticed what looked like a cluster of small eggs under the skin of his leg. I could go on, but I don't think you want the details. You'll be happy to know Phil's much better now too.
We're going to try and avoid the parasitic problems this time around. We're heading to Asia's so-called "Golden Triangle" to report on the problem of species loss and the black-market trade of wildlife. The trip is part of our ongoing series of reports we're calling Planet in Peril.
Thailand and Cambodia are largely recognized as ground zero for the illegal wildlife trade, an underground market the UN estimates is a $5-8 billion industry, the world's second most lucrative black market behind the drug trade. Most of the animals -- dead and alive -- are sold at open-air markets where buyers make their purchases for culinary consumption as well as for traditional medicines. There's quite a bit of trophy collecting of rare cat pelts and skulls as well.
The governments and law enforcement from both countries recognize the problem and along with U.S. representatives have recently beefed-up their enforcement efforts. But it's a tough challenge. There's a great abundance of species in the region's forested areas and it's easy to slip back and forth across the borders of both countries. Then there's China. The region's eastern neighbor is a consumption machine and along with the United States is a massive consumer of illegal wildlife.
The black-market trade is only a small part of the overall problem of species loss. Many biologists believe the earth is in the midst of the sixth great spasm of extinction. The first five were naturally occurring (ice age, meteors, etc), but this one's man-made. The pressure humans are putting on plants and animals is enormous. From deforestation to habitat encroachment to pollution, it's all adding up to rates of extinction that are profound. American Scientist Magazine recently estimated that three species are lost per hour -- that's 72 species a day, 26,280 per year.
Like almost all environmental problems there aren't any easy answers. The fate of many of these species are weighed against economic interests and population growth. Anderson and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin will investigate all the angles.
It's almost time to take off now and Jeff Hutchens, the still photographer from Getty Images who joins us on these trips, has just arrived. We haven't seen each other since Brazil and he just pulled up his pant leg to show us all what he thinks is a small parasite creeping around his ankle. They don't have those in Thailand, do they?