There are many reasons to fight against unlawful poaching of animal species on this planet, not least of which is preservation of critical ecosystems and moral recognition that we humans do not own Mother Earth. However, a new dynamic has developed that should persuade even big game hunters.
Since 2011, Kenya has seen elephant poaching rise to unsustainable levels, fueled by the unprecedented increase in the market value of ivory by 1500% in four years to about $1,000 per pound. About 30,000 elephants were killed illegally in 2012, the highest number in 20 years. Known as “white gold,” countries in the Far East (and in particular, China and Vietnam), refuse to ban the sale of ivory and, as the price escalates, the magnitude of poaching escalates. While many of us in the US wish we could take the high road on this issue, the New York Times reports that the US is the second-largest consumer (after China) of illegal animal products like elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and tiger bone.
Elephants are not the only species suffering from increased poaching. The black market price for horns from rhinoceros is about $30,000 per pound or, as described by Grant Harris (senior director for Africa for the National Security Council) “literally worth greater than their weight in gold.” In 2013, South Africa lost more than 450 rhinos, which could be a record loss.
In a report filed by Ian J. Saunders with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) in April 2013, Mr. Saunders reported that terrorism is playing a substantial role in the increase in poaching elephants in Africa:
“The rapid escalation of the threat to elephants is due to heightened levels of participation from the heavily armed poaching gangs, often hailing from Somalia, operating either for organized crime syndicates or from fundamentalist organizations. Ivory has the potential to provide an easily accessible and untraceable source of revenue to terrorist and extremist organizations in both Kenya and Somalia, providing a direct threat to the U.S. and its African allies.”
Experts believe that the recent terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which left more than 68 dead and more than 150 injured, was fueled in part by illegal profits obtained from illegal poaching. The attack was conducted by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-backed terrorist group from Somalia. Al-Shabaab reportedly was forced out of several areas in which it had produced significant funds from illegal trafficking in coal. To replace those funds, al-Shabaab began trafficking in illegal ivory obtained from poaching elephants. Studies by the Elephant Action League conclude that al-Shabaab’s illegal trafficking in ivory could be supplying up to 40% of its funds.
In response, President Obama formed a cabinet-level Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking in July 2013 to devise a national strategy for reducing poaching. In addition, the US destroyed six tons of illegal African elephant ivory in order to send a message of zero tolerance, reduce the appeal of ivory, rhinoceros horns and other illicit animal products, and send a clear signal that these products should not be perceived as valuable. Other countries have followed suit.
According to the Washington Post, the hunting of elephants, rhinos, sharks and other species in developing nations for sale in wealthier countries as valued at $7 billion to $10 billion per year, placing it among drugs and human trafficking as one of the world’s top illegal markets. The interconnection between wildlife and humans is succinctly defined by Monica Median, former assistant to several Secretaries of Defense:
“Elephant poaching is the latest example of how our
‘natural security’ impacts our national security.”
For more information, we recommend the following:
How Elephant Poaching Helped Fund Kenyan Terrorist Attack, Treehugger.com
Obama Announces Initiative To Combat Wildlife Trafficking, Washington Post
In a Message to Poachers, U.S. to Destroy Its Ivory, New York Times