Stockpiles of Horn and Tusk at Kenya Ivory Burn
Elephants and rhinos face the biggest crisis of their millions of years on Earth – the fight for survival. A historic poaching onslaught is pushing these animals close to the brink of extinction, fueled by an illegal wildlife trade worth billions of dollars.
Every day around 100 elephants in Africa are brutally killed for their tusks. It is estimated that 25,000 – 50,000 elephants are poached each year. From numbering in their millions around 100 years ago, today there may be only around 400,000 elephants left in Africa; lower estimates put this number at around 250,000.
READ MORE: Industrial-scale massacre
Elephants are being massacred on an industrial scale, with sophisticated means such as automatic weapons, helicopter gunships, and night-vision equipment. The ivory trade is increasingly run by transnational criminal networks, while profits from the ‘blood ivory’ trade are used to help fund terrorist networks.
Other threats to elephants
Elephants are at risk not only from poaching but from habitat loss and degradation and ever-increasing human-elephant conflict. As human populations continue to grow across elephants’ traditional range, more and more land is being taken over for agriculture and pastoralism. So elephant habitats are not only shrinking in size but becoming more fragmented.
Inadequate anti-poaching measures, weak law enforcement, and rampant corruption compound the severity of the threats facing elephants in many of the African countries where they are trying to survive.
Over a million rhinos roamed Africa’s savannahs 150 years ago. Today, the continent’s remaining rhinos are found in only four countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Although almost all remaining rhinos live in protected areas and sanctuaries, the governments of these countries are failing to keep them safe from poachers.
READ MORE: Exponential increase in rhinos poached
Around 3 rhinos are killed each day for their horn. Poaching has increased exponentially in South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe since 2007. In South Africa alone, it has soared by 9000% from 2007 – from 13 rhinos killed that year to 1,175 in 2015. Since 2008, poachers have killed at least 5,940 African rhinos.
Habitat loss and political conflict are other key factors in the decline of rhino populations.
There are around 20,000 white rhino and around 5,000 black rhino remaining in Africa.
The Western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2011, with poaching identified as the primary cause. All 5 remaining rhino species are listed on the IUCN Redlist of threatened species, with 3 of these classified as critically endangered.
Why are elephants and rhinos being killed in such huge numbers?
Poaching has soared in recent decades in response to the vast appetite for ivory and rhino horn among consumers. The world’s largest consumer of ivory (accounting for some 70% of the total) is China, where a growing, newly-affluent middle class can afford to indulge its taste for exotic luxury goods and status symbols such as carved ivory objects.
The demand for rhino horn has soared in several Asian countries, mainly China and Vietnam, where it is used in traditional medicine, although it has no medicinal or curative properties whatsoever. The current surge in rhino poaching is primarily driven by demand in Vietnam, where it is also considered a high-value status symbol and, increasingly, is used as a party drug.
Time is running out for these iconic species.
With so few numbers left, and such a slow rate of reproduction, these two species are rapidly heading for extinction, unless united and global action is taken to save them. Every country can play a part by banning its domestic ivory trade and destroying its stockpile of ivory and rhino horn, to send an unequivocal message that these substances have zero commercial value.
READ MORE: Decimation of elephant societies
These remarkable and highly intelligent animals are being cruelly slaughtered in the most barbaric ways, with poachers often hacking off their tusks or horns while they are still alive. The agony these helpless creatures endure, and – especially for elephants – the anguish for their surviving family members, is unimaginable. Elephants have close family bonds and rely on the elders of their group to lead and teach them; when these are killed, the herd is left devastated and grieving. The decimation of elephant societies has far-reaching repercussions that play out over generations. If babies lose their mothers they often will not survive unless they are rescued; even then, they often die from the trauma and grief they have experienced.
The illegal wildlife trade is estimated at $20 billion per year. It funds organized crime, global terror networks and militias, and destabilizes and impoverishes local communities across Africa and Asia. Heavily armed poaching gangs oversee the bloody chain, from killing the animals to smuggling their body parts for export around the world.
The trade is out of control and raging across the globe. Besides elephants and rhinos, other endangered species such as lions, pangolins, gorillas, tigers, polar bears, and many more also face extinction. These animals are all being exterminated for human greed, or are seeing their habitats destroyed due to an ever- increasing human population – currently 7.2 billion and expected to grow to 11 billion by 2100. The accelerated economic growth in Asia is making the problem much worse.
As the numbers of elephants, rhinos, and thousands of other species are depleted every day, the savannahs and forests of Africa and Asia grow silent and barren, devoid of their once teeming wildlife. A future without these species – all of which play a role in maintaining balanced ecosystems – is very hard to imagine, but it’s a future we are inexorably heading towards unless action is taken now to stop the wholesale killing and destruction of habitats