Very few get to take an inside look at how wildlife poaching can decimate animal populations around the world.
Inside the National Wildlife Property Repository in Commerce City, Colorado, it’s a macabre lesson in supply and demand.
From elephant toenails used as business card holders, to baby rhino feet for pencil holders, as strange and inhumane as these products feel, these animals are here because people are willing to buy them.
“It’s mind boggling sometimes to walk through here sometimes and see the sheer volume of it and know that it was nothing more than a curiosity,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Specialist Coleen Schafer, who adds the repository’s 1.5 million items represent a fraction of illegal wildlife trafficking every year.
From caimans holding ashtrays, bobcat pelts, zebra heads, to a stuffed tiger fetus a poacher once tried to sell for $3500, animal trafficking remains the third most lucrative black market behind drugs and weapons.
“It used to be a crime of opportunity.” said Schaefer, "Now it is well organized, it funds insurgencies, it is a multi-billion dollar industry they use to fund arms.”
And as business booms, Schaefer says animals in the wild are in critically short supply.
“Take tigers for example, about 3800 hundred left in the wild around the world.” said Schaefer, "We are losing elephants every 15 minutes. In fact, within the next decade they could gone from the wild completely.”
It’s why the repository isn’t just a final stop for these confiscated animals. Schaefer is now developing educational programs in hopes to galvanize the public.
“If they do have that visceral experience, if they are shocked by it, I want to tap into that and ask why.” said Schaefer.
'Why?’ may be the final question these animals now pose to the world. The hope is to find an answer before it’s too late.
Friday marks the 11th annual Endangered Species Day. The World Wildlife Federation says the planet has lost half its annual population in just the last 40 years.