In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, small numbers of wildlife rangers risk their lives, often with little training and old surplus equipment, trying to save the last rhinos and the shrinking elephant herds.
According to traditional chinese medicine, rhino horn is believed to cure severe fevers and arthritis, and slow the growth of cancer tumours. It's value fluctuates, but at times powdered rhino horn is worth more than twice the price of gold on the black market in Vietnam and China. Carved elephant ivory is a pure luxury item, purchased and displayed by the newly rich in China and other countries.
Over the last decade, nearly 10,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers.There are only about 18,000 white rhinos and maybe 5,500 black rhinos left alive in all of Africa. A single country, South Africa, now holds roughly 80% of the entire world's rhino population in private and public reserves.
Elephants are an equally serious conservation issue. In the early 20th century, 3 - 5 million elephants roamed all over Africa. According to the WWF, this population has declined to approximately 415,000. While the continent-wide ivory poaching crisis seems to have abated, several critical poaching hotspots remain. In addition, climate change and a steadily increasing human population are growing threats to the long-term survival of Africa's elephants.
Encounters between rangers and poachers in the bush sometimes turn into firefights, and unprovoked attacks on ranger patrols have resulted in several fatalities. Central Africa is of particular concern, with ongoing conflicts that make wildlife conservation very dangerous.
Organized poaching 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.
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