By Michael Meyer 17 November, 2015: A half-century ago, white rhinos abounded in Africa. Today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that only 25,000 still roam the continent, mostly in South Africa, with a handful in Namibia and Kenya.
The population of elephants – another of Africa’s most iconic animals – is also dwindling fast, having fallen from 10-20mn a half-century ago to just 470,000 today.
The proximate cause of these precipitous declines is poaching. The going rate for elephant tusk in Asian markets is around $1,500 per pound. Rhino horn fetches $45,000 or more. With prices like these, it is no surprise that poaching has become a $20bn mega-business, reaching high into the political leadership of many African countries.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that roughly 400 tons of ivory – taken from about 50,000 elephants – was trafficked in 2013. There are now about 50,000 elephants left in all of Central Africa.
Farther east, Tanzania’s elephant population declined by two-thirds, or more than 25,000 animals, from 2009 to 2014, while Mozambique’s fell by 40%. All of Mozambique’s white rhinos have already been wiped out.
Conservationists have been sounding the alarm for years. But the poaching industry has only grown. Far from a bow-and-arrow affair carried out by local tribes, it has become a kind of mechanised warfare, featuring gangs equipped with AK-47s, electronic tracking gear and sometimes even helicopters.
♦ Michael Meyer, dean of the Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, is establishing an environmental reporting programme for Africa.
Discover, Explore and Learn more via:
- Gulf Times | A global strategy to end poaching
- The Japan Times | Bringing pressure on Africa’s ivory poachers
- New Europe | Pressuring the poachers
- All Africa | Namibia: Pressuring the Poachers