In 1989, a ban on the trade of ivory came to be but despite this ban the ivory trade has continued to be a major issue globally. Within years of the ivory ban, however, elephant population numbers began to rise as poaching declined. But now a thriving ivory network between Africa and Asia is decimating elephants, as well as rhinos, as never before in recent decades.
Largely driving the demand for ivory and subsequently elephant poaching are countries in Asia with increasing wealth. In addition, ivory prices have doubled in the last two years. 35,000 elephants are estimated to have been poached for their tusks just in 2011 according to the charity Tusk Trust.
More than ninety percent of the rhinos in Africa are located in South Africa, with numbers around 20,000 individuals. As of approximately ten years ago poaching was a limited issue in the region, with about fifteen rhinos killed per year in the country. 443 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2011. 262 have been killed up to the month of June this calendar year.
The growing wealth in Asia is combined with the belief that ground rhino horn can cure and prevent many maladies, including cancer, gout, fever and erectile dysfunction, the results are devastating to rhino populations. The prevalence of this belief and corresponding demand for rhino horn has increased the cost of a single pound of rhino horn significantly in recent years, with prices as high as $50,000 and expected to rise as rhino populations decrease.
The illegal black market for wildlife trade is not just targeting elephants and rhinos, however. Species globally are subject to the growing issue, an issue which is said to be worth more than the annual illegal drug trade according to some sources. Unfortunately many of the species targeted are endangered which often simply increases the poaching due to higher prices for the products created from the species.
The conservation group WWF recently released an analysis detailing the current state of poaching and illegal trafficking in twenty-three countries. The report focused on the state of elephants, rhinos and tigers. While elephants and rhinos are most often considered during trafficking discussions, tigers are also a high-risk species. According to the WWF, 97 percent of wild tigers have been lost in just the last 100 years.
Vietnam, unsurprisingly, was the worst when it came to its role in rhino horn and tiger-part poaching and subsequent trafficking. Adding to the situation is Vietnam’s breeding farms of tigers which support the illegal tiger-part trade. WWF Global Species Program Manager, Elisabeth McLellan, stated: “It is time for Vietnam to face the fact that its illegal consumption of rhino horn is driving the widespread poaching of endangered rhinos in Africa, and that it must crack down on the illegal rhino horn trade.”
Mozambique was ranked as one of the worst origin countries, the WWF indicating that the country is failing to protect elephants and rhinos. Laos was another origin country the WWF indicated is failing, in their case failing to protect elephants as well as tigers. Countries of destinations pinpointed as places needed to increase enforcement were China and Thailand.
The WWF indicated that overall enforcement and prosecution of poaching and trafficking need to increase globally in order to prevent these and other species from going extinct.