By Harein Ashvin Valiram
“We have many elephants here at the Madikwe Game Reserve and it is a big reserve – we cannot be at everywhere at once. We have to take care of all of them; last year we lost one elephant to poachers who flew in on their helicopter, killed him, harvested his tusks and left. They were in and out in under 30 minutes”.
In the summer of 2012, I visited South Africa and went on a safari. Upon hearing this from the ranger who was leading our expedition, I was dismayed, stunned and sick at heart.
Throughout the last decade, poaching has devastated ecosystems throughout the world. According to environmental data released by the South African government, between 2007 and 2014, poaching levels increased immensely by over 9000%. During 2017, South Africa slight decline in rhinoceros poaching from 1,054 (2016) to 1,028 (2017). Although this is a decrease, we should not ‘beat the drum’ as this means that around three rhinoceroses are still being killed, daily, in South Africa alone.
In addition to the rhinoceros, the African elephant is, another among many species, that have become endangered due to poaching. So, what makes poachers particularly inclined to poaching these two specific animals? Their ivory. These animals’ tusks and horns are made of ivory, which fuel an illegal (in most countries), underground black market called the Ivory Trade. This network extends from Africa to Asia, and includes many nations that prohibit its presence. The Ivory Trade is currently worth around 1 billion USD and annually around 75,000 African elephants are killed for their tusks. Of these 75,000 elephants, more than 80% were killed illegally. Currently, punishments for committing this crime can result in harsh consequences such as life imprisonment in some countries yet in others a fine ranging from ten thousand Indian rupees ($153), creating an acute disparity in the degree of enforcement. Currently, the market value of one kilogram of ivory is worth between $1,000 to $1,500, and a whole tusk is worth a whopping $40,000.
If poachers are risking their lives to dodge the authorities in order to rip the tusks off a 7 ton creature, and customers are willing to pay up to $1,500 for a measly kilogram of illegally obtained ivory, you would think the ivory must have an important use, right? Well, most of the ivory is smuggled into China and Thailand in order to make ‘essential’ items necessary for human survival such as chopsticks, accessories and ornaments. Apparently these items are more important than the lives of these wild animals that are being poached to extinction.
Many cultures, mostly Chinese, believe that it has medicinal purposes, despite this being repeatedly disproven. Imagine if we were the elephants; even if it did have medicinal properties, would if be fair for us to be killed in order to save another life?
In 1990, the UN banned the international trade of Ivory however some countries still permit it domestically. In 2016, the United States banned the ivory trade, and the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and China followed in 2017. But what still confuses me is why many countries, such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, still allow the trade to continue, despite its many negative repercussions? Furthermore, if the United Nations has banned it internationally, why don’t these countries recognize the issues and put an end to it domestically? It is ironic that the population of elephants in Zimbabwe, one of the countries that supports the trade, plummeted 10% since 2016, due to poachers and the effects of the Ivory Trade. Now, taking this into account, why don’t all countries outlaw this nefarious trade? Killing another life in order to profit a paltry $40,000 is inhumane.
Next time you go to buy that new ivory necklace think twice; is it worth it?
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