Poaching: A Crisis in East AfricaPosted By : admin | January 11, 2014 | 7 comment(s)
There is a crisis in East Africa that takes the ugly form of poaching. The tentacles of this evil trade reach throughout the world and cause massive destruction of species and ecosystems globally. The crime of poaching and smuggling of ivory, and other body parts, is fuelled by the demand for use in traditional medicine in the far eastern markets. The totally unfounded belief that rhino horns, elephants tusks, and body parts of numerous animals, can alleviate various ailments has driven the trade to catastrophic numbers of kills in 2013.
2013 has seen the rate of poaching of elephants reach one kill every 15 minutes and a rhino every 2 days. With these statistics the numbers of these species, among others, are plummeting in Eastern Africa. At this rate both could become extinct in this area in the next ten years. Stockpiles have been destroyed globally in the past few months, most recently in Tanzania, America and China two days ago. China’s attempt to convince its population this trade is no longer acceptable. However poaching is a $10 Billion industry that feeds a seemingly never ending demand for a legal and licensed trade in China and countries such as Vietnam and Taiwan.
A rhino horn can fetch up to US$800,000 and ivory from elephants up to US$1550 per kilogram. These are very high financial incentives that make poaching attractive to some of the poorest people in the world. Even though two of the biggest purchasers in the world, China and Vietnam, have signed a CITES agreement to make the trade illegal, the demand in these countries in soaring. Ivory is protected as part of China’s ‘cultural heritage’ so therefore meaning the craftsmanship is protected. As well as a plethora of beliefs in the unfounded medical benefits, making it almost impossible to wipe out the trade here without a change in education its cultural and wellbeing status. Also the majority of the Chinese public has no idea the animal has to die (gruesomely) to provide the horn or tusk.
Now major criminal groups have become involved in the trade in Eastern Africa due to the sheer amount of financial gain, funding various terrorist organizations, such as Al Shabab, and piracy activities, amongst other things. This development had garnered international attention including President Obama and The Clinton Foundation pledging $80 Million to fighting poaching. One thing that is certain is that not only is this one of the single biggest driving forces of an environmental crisis, but it has also become an all out war. Poachers are no longer rogue elements working in small groups, but highly organized and heavily armed units, who will stop at nothing to obtain their bounty.
As visually dramatic as these bonfires and crushes of ivory are they seem to have little adherence to the laws of economics. As scarcity pushes up both prices and demand and pushes ivory into the super luxury status that is dangerous in increasingly capitalist markets such as China, where the ranks of the super rich are expanding. Getting rid of the ivory does not get rid of the problem, and in our opinion, exacerbates it. Stockpiles that have been sold do not meet demand and are already being topped up by the illegal trade so this mass destruction is creating a larger gap in the market in countries that prizes ivory.
Methods to combat the ever increasing problem have also become more tactical and high tech. Our Ecoescape Ol Jogi has devised some innovative methods and our interview with Alec Wildenstein gives some insights into the issues. Drones are now seen as the newest form of technology to being utilized in Kenya, with Ol Pejeta test running the technology. If successful in their fight against rhino hunters it could be used throughout Africa, Obama suggested their use in Tanzania against elephant poaching during his visit earlier this year. The unmanned, unarmed vehicles will work as surveillance monitors to relay information about the locations of herds and potential danger to computers on the ground via a live feed. They have been utilized in other areas but it is hopeful that they will now make a real difference to monitoring and anticipating attack.
Sabai Sand in South Africa have been piloting a more dramatic scheme of actually injecting the horns of rhino with poison and die meaning that if it is ingested then a person will also die. Although it is not clear if the reserves can be prosecuted for this. The trade is illegal in itself but so is knowingly killing someone so it has not been ascertained if injecting the horns is legal. However it is probably one of the most dramatic deterrents out there at the moment. However TRAFFIC are not convinced this will act as an effective solution as poachers will become aware of the practice and simply move to concentrate their efforts in other areas.
In the end however the only real way to stop this hideous slaughter and trade is to stop demand from consumers. Education is essential in the nations that demand the products starting from a young age that the medicinal value is myth. Also some pretty intense advertising campaigns with facts and images could work to help create an awakening about this grotesque trade and the dark forces it funds. One thing is for certain – without a massive paradigm shift amongst consumers of horn and ivory – these magnificent creatures will not be around for our grandchildren to enjoy in the wild.