by Nick Brandt
As many of you reading this may now know, the latest round of continent-wide poaching dramatically began escalating in 2008, after the disastrous decision by CITES ((Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to allow a one-time sale of ivory stockpiles to the Far Eastern market. They naively thought that this legal ivory would suppress the market for illegal ivory. Of course, it had the opposite effect, kick-starting a whole new wave of ivory factories in China searching for more raw product to manufacture their pointless carvings sculpted from the murder of the innocent.
Today, the proof is incontrovertible. 2011 was the worst year yet for the killing of elephants in Africa, now an estimated 35,000 a year and if 2012’s reports are anything to go by, only climbing exponentially.
And with them, an increasing number of other animals are killed and their body parts shipped off to the Chinese and Far Eastern market. Rhino horn is now more expensive than gold dust. Increasingly, lion claws and teeth are in demand now that there are so few tigers left in Asia. (Go to The Animals at www.biglife.org/on-the-ground/the-animals-of-amboseli-market-value for the market value of the animals of the Amboseli ecosystem).
The list goes on, an insatiable demand for animal parts of all kinds from around the planet, generated by a huge burgeoning middle class in China. With a population of 1.2 billion people, an estimated 80% of which believe ivory comes from tusks that have fallen out of elephants naturally and been gathered, the animals of Africa (and the world) are under siege like never before.
Thanks to the media finally picking up on the apocalypse occurring on the African continent, more and more people are starting to learn and understand what is happening.
But without dramatic, bold intervention by the Chinese and other governments, without them boldly enforcing the law and bans on trading, the battle to preserve the animals of Africa is going to be brutal.
“Law enforcement officials say the sharp increase in large seizures is a clear sign that organized crime has slipped into the ivory underworld, because only a well-oiled criminal machine — with the help of corrupt officials — could move hundreds of pounds of tusks thousands of miles across the globe, often using specially made shipping containers with secret compartments.
The smugglers are “Africa-based, Asian-run crime syndicates,” said Tom Milliken, director of the Elephant Trade Information System, an international ivory monitoring project, and “highly adaptive to law enforcement interventions, constantly changing trade routes and modus operandi.”
“China is the epicenter of demand,” said Robert Hormats, a senior U.S. State Department official. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”
With the demand for ivory increasing, rebel military forces, from Joseph Kony to the janjaweed militias of southern Sudan, are capitalizing on this demand, and hunting down and exterminating entire herds of elephants in Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan amongst others, to finance the acquisition of weapons.
Finally, the situation is greatly exacerbated by the increased Chinese presence in Africa. The Chinese are busily engaged in building a wide network of roads across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Over and over, there is seen to be an increase of poaching in those regions wherever the Chinese construction workers are building.
Right now, Big Life is doing a kind of triage, holding back in Amboseli the forces that are wreaking destruction so much elsewhere. We whole-heartedly support and champion the likes of other non-profits working to highlight the situation in China, and educate the populace there, organizations like Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Wild Aid.
Between the likes of Big Life on the ground in Africa, and EIA and Wild Aid in China, hopefully together we can both save lives and bring an end to the destruction, like occurred once before in 1989.