It has long been known that one of the largest threats to Earth is man itself. In one specific area, this is very true. For various reasons, in many countries across the world, hundreds of thousands of animals are needlessly killed each year for humanity’s selfish purposes. Unfortunately, as with many other areas of human expertise, the perpetrators of these crimes continually develop new methods and tactics to overcome all the efforts the greater part of mankind make to eradicate their practices.
Dolphins in Japan. Pangolins in Indonesia. Tigers in India. Lorises in Indonesia. Giant salamanders in China. Sea turtles in Costa Rica. Snub-nosed monkeys in Tibet. Sharks in the Mediterranean. Elephants, rhinos, lions and gorillas in many African countries. The list could just go on when it comes to endangered species threatened by poaching. Some are well-known through campaigns made by wildlife organisations, others many have never heard of.
The reasons for poaching are as diverse as the animals. Many animal parts are used in varieties of traditional medicine, such as rhino horns or pangolin scales. Others are poached for their skin, such as tigers. Some have their mothers killed and are then caught young to be sold as pets, like gorillas. In some cases, it’s simply because the meat is considered a delicacy, as with the fins of sharks. And for elephants, their tusks are used to create valuable ivory items.
The trade is facilitated by a booming Chinese economy; when the price of raw ivory and rhino horn is about $1000 and $100 000 per kg respectively one can only imagine what the price of a finished pair of chopsticks or a medicinal concoction would be. As more people are gaining financial stability and entering the upper middle class in China and other Asian countries, the demand for such items keep growing.
Today many animals, especially elephants and rhinos in national parks in Africa, are guarded day and night by devoted rangers armed with automatic rifles as part of an ongoing war between poachers and rangers. In April, a Swedish man was shot and wounded while working as a park manager in Congo. The work provided by park rangers is deterring many locals from becoming poachers, since most poaching occurs in poor, developing countries where people are desperate for any source of income. As told by Netflix’s Virunga documentary, the gorillas in Congo are shot by local villagers paid off by oil companies – if there are no gorillas, the wildlife areas would be available for oil extraction. In the national parks bordering South Sudan, the ivory trade is financing terrorist groups such as that of Joseph Kony. In poor fishing villages in Japan, the capturing and killing of dolphins provides both food and income, as seen in the Oscar award-winning documentary The Cove.
But the issue is also evolving over time. In February, park rangers in Congo announced a new type of poaching that is threatening a rare and endangered species of giraffe: refugees. Corrupt regimes in many African countries have very little to offer their citizens when it comes to welfare services and even less to offer people fleeing unrest in their own states. The refugees take to the bush, where a full-grown giraffe yields up to 270 kg of desperately needed meat. Today, a record-breaking number of over 60 million people are on the run from war and poverty. While many flee to Europe and other parts of the world, some have to take what they can get and escape to countries where the conditions are not much better than those they try to evade.
And as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. Some parks have begun to sedate and saw off the horns of their rhinos themselves, to save them from poachers who simply kill to get the horns. On the 30th of April this year, the Kenyan government burnt 105 tonnes of ivory and one tonne of rhino horns (the largest amount ever destroyed at once) as a bold statement action against poaching. And in the beginning of April it was decided that 80 rhinos will be moved from South Africa to Australia over the course of four years in an effort to help the species’ bounce back at a safe distance from the threat of poaching. Such actions might seem farfetched, but as the numbers of animals continue to dwindle they become a necessity. WWF estimates that at the turn of the last century, there were several million elephants in Africa, today only about 470 000. The same goes for many animals; some species are now even considered extinct, such as the Javan rhino and Western black rhino who both died out in 2011, and WWF’s list of critically endangered animals is ever growing.
Many people and organisations are doing what they can, but since the issue is intertwined with so many others the end of poaching is a hard thing to achieve. As measures are taken to stop poaching from happening, the perpetrators continually find new ways to continue their practices. It is clear though that one way or another, an end to poaching needs to be accomplished or we will soon see irreversible damage to the diversity of the animal kingdom.