We are in the midst of a poaching crisis


Photograph by Joonas Lyytinen, Käyttäjä:Joonasl

News feeds around the world are saturated with crisis reports. Popular twitter hash-tags have recently included #Ebola, #Ukraine, #Gaza, #Ferguson, #ISIS and #Syria to name a few.

And while we have been hurtling towards humanitarian disaster overload, an environmental catastrophe has been unfolding on the plains of Africa.

We are in the midst of a poaching crisis.

Already this year 787 rhinos have been killed for their horns in South Africa alone and an increasing ivory demand sees an annual 30,000 elephants slaughtered.


There is an increasing market for ivory and rhino horn, predominantly in Asia. Illegally traded animal products are used as traditional medicine, jewelry, clothing and even wine.

But with humanitarian, religious and political tensions already causing anguish to world leaders, why should we pay attention to the deaths of African pachyderms? The answer to this comes not only from the intrinsic value we place on elephants and rhinos as living individuals but from the function they serve in our ecosystems.

Rhinos and elephants act as ‘selective lawnmowers‘, removing the most competitive grasses in the Savannah. This encourages a range of less competitive grasses to grow which increases the biodiversity richness of the region. Biodiversity is heralded as a provider of ecosystem services such as food, water, nutrient cycling and medicinal products. Without this biodiversity, ecosystem services that are relied on by millions of people will disappear.

As well as this there is mounting evidence illustrating the inexorable links between the illegal wildlife trade and other global crises.

Wildlife smuggling comprises the fourth largest illegal trade in the world, preceded only by narcotics, counterfeit products and currency, and human trafficking. As well as hindering social development, economic security and conservation efforts, worrying links have been drawn between poaching and African based terror groups.

So what can be done?

Inter-governmental collaboration is essential. If success is to be achieved, transnational trade must be combated with transnational efforts. However, this is not easy. Borders go unchecked, trade routes metamorphose and lack of funding leaves governments and enforcement agencies struggling to keep up with the criminal syndicate groups they hope to dissolve.

We need to increase monitoring and law enforcement efforts. Elephant and rhino poaching levels are reaching record levels and are set to further increase.

We need to reduce demand for illegal products. Where there is a market for ivory products or rhino horn, suppliers will find ways to meet this demand. Reducing demand for these illegal products will by consequence lower the incentive to poach elephants and rhinos. On World Rhino Day WWF-Vietnam launched a campaign to this effect.

Most of all we need education. We need to educate buyers, communities and holiday makers which products to avoid and why. Poachers must instead be taught the value of endangered species and how to conserve them.

We are in the midst of a poaching crisis but we also have the capability to stop it. By collaborating, educating, co-operating perhaps we can haul these majestic species back from the precipice of extinction, not only saving them, but in the process, ourselves.



2 thoughts on “We are in the midst of a poaching crisis

  1. Elda Fleck says:

    Interesting – I could see these short sharp pieces being used in schools’ environmental curriculum and teachers are always on the lookout for interesting stimulus material.


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