THE POACHING WARS
“In WWF’s 50 years of conservation, we have never seen wildlife crime on such a scale.”
- World Wildlife Fund
"Poachers are killing more elephants than are born every year."
"An elephant is killed by poachers every 15 minutes."
- Tusk Trust
"Rhino poaching is currently at a crisis point, driven by demand in asian countries, particularly Vietnam."
- Save The Rhino
"The illegal ivory trade is estimated to be worth $3 billion (2.7 billion euros)
- Agence France-Presse
"A ranger is killed in the line of duty every four days."
- The Thin Green Line Foundation
In vicious bush wars throughout sub-Saharan Africa, small numbers of wildlife rangers are struggling against overwhelming odds. They risk their lives, often with little training and old surplus equipment, trying to save the last rhinos and the rapidly shrinking elephant herds.
Rhino horn is believed to cure severe fevers and slow the growth of cancer tumours according to traditional chinese medicine. It is currently worth more than twice the price of gold on the streets of Vietnam and China. Carved elephant ivory is a luxury item, purchased and displayed by the newly rich in China and other countries.
There are maybe 25,000 rhinos left in all of Africa, of which roughly 80% are in South Africa. In 2015, 1,175 rhinos were reported killed by poachers in South Africa, a huge increase from the 13 rhinos killed in 2007. At this rate, more rhinos are being killed than are born.
Elephants are an equally urgent issue. The total number of African elephants is hard to estimate, but an educated guess is 400,000. A much larger number than rhinos, obviously. However, everything about elephants is bigger, including the poaching statistics.100,000 elephants were killed in the three-year period 2010 - 2012. That translates into nearly 100 elephants killed every day, or between 30,000 - 40,000 every year.
The killing is now on an industrial scale. Elephants and rhinos are poisoned by cyanide poured in waterholes, or shot by professionals armed with silenced weapons and powerful protection from corrupt officials and politicians. The illegal international trade in ivory and rhino horn is a multi-billion dollar industry, comparable to the trade in drugs, illegal arms and human trafficking, and is now controlled by the same global criminal syndicates.
There are reports that militias such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and the Sudanese janjaweed are involved in the illegal ivory trade to finance arms purchases. ‘Blood ivory’ has become a term like blood diamonds, with a similar link to the ongoing human tragedies in Africa’s conflict zones.
Encounters between rangers and poachers in the bush frequently turn into firefights, and outright ambushes against ranger patrols are increasingly common. According to the Thin Green Line Foundation and WWF, a ranger is killed in the line of duty every four days.
A number of NGOs and private initiatives are attempting to redress the imbalance by supplying training and equipment to ranger units in Africa. However, the efforts are often hindered by corrupt officials who benefit from the slaughter.
The poaching disaster can only be stopped by ending demand in the end-market countries, and by involving local communities in Africa in conservation.
But these are long term solutions to a very immediate problem. In the short term, the rangers on the frontline, the 'boots on the ground', urgently need our support.
© Frank af Petersens