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Brooklyn, New York (VICE) -- Two men stand in the yard of a Nepalese jail, facing the camera. One looks straight into the lens while the other looks away. They are on trial for poaching and could be sharing a cell for the next 20 years if convicted. Patrick Brown takes their picture.
Brown and Ben Davies have been documenting the illegal trade of endangered animals in Asia for more than ten years, covering its dealers, stockpiles, trafficking routes and markets. They knows that poachers are but a small part of a much bigger contraband industry that is centuries old.
"A poacher who kills a rhino and removes its horn in India gets $350," Brown explains. "By the time it reaches Hong Kong, the horn is worth about $95,600 per killogram." Money fuels illegal animal trade, as it does any other form of smuggling, but the demand and value of these animals is built upon false beliefs and superstition.
Rhino horns have no medicinal purpose, but myths about their effect on health and potency have pushed their value to more than five times the price of gold in black markets. Animal trade thrives on novelty and on the belief that exotic animals exude certain powers. More and more people are becoming aware of the myths, but sellers are also adapting. As Patrick Brown explains, porous rhino horns are now often soaked in Viagra before they reach the market.
The exact size of that market is impossible to figure out, but experts estimate that its value is somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Legal global wildlife trade has doubled since the 1990s, and the evidence is nothing short of disheartening: more than 100 million sharks are killed each year, elephants have evolved to have shorter tusks because of poaching, and there are more Bengalese tigers in Texas than in the bay of Bengal.
The trade pandemic is only made worse by the shortage of animal specialists at checkpoints. "The problem seems insurmountable," Patrick Brown said, "but one way of curbing rampant killing is to educate future generations." Brown does not think of himself as an animal activist, but rather talks about exposing a subculture of society and documenting the story of what happens to these animals. He hopes his work will raise public and political awareness about this issue and has said that his ultimate goal is to educate the developing world.
Brown and Davies' decade-long project will culminate with the publication of "Trading to Extinction" later this year. The book was made possible by the crowd-funding site Emphas.is and will include an introduction by journalist Ben Davies.