By Keith Martin
The slaughter at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi by al Shabaab and the murder last month of students as they slept in their dorms in Nigeria by Boko Haram were just the latest atrocities that have been inflicted on people living in the Sahel and East Africa by terrorist groups. What many do not appreciate is that these horrific events are directly connected to the wholesale slaughter of elephants currently underway on the continent.
As incomes have risen in Asia products that were desirable but previously unattainable are now within people’s grasp. This goes for ivory. Seen as evidence of wealth and success, people in Asia, particularly the Chinese, are flocking to buy “white gold.” It is estimated that a significant portion of China’s 230 million strong middle class have expressed an interest in buying ivory. The problem is that there are now fewer than 250,000 elephants left in the wild down from an estimated 700,000 four decades ago – and an elephant produces only one calf every 2.5 to 9 years. Last year 30,000 elephants were killed for their tusks and the carnage continues unabated.
With demand so high, ivory is selling for $3,000 or more per kilogram. It is estimated that the tusks of just five elephants were all that was needed to fund the Westgate massacre.
In the face of this it was encouraging recently to see the leaders of several African nations commit to banning the ivory trade within their borders. It was heartening, too, to see the Clinton Global Initiative unveil an $80 million, three-year effort to increase enforcement measures in Africa. This is an important part of the solution. Anti-poaching units are desperate for the drones, weaponry and night vision goggles they need to combat the heavily armed gangs that are not only killing elephants, but have also murdered many conservation officers across the continent.
However, this will not be enough to halt the annihilation of these iconic species and drain this important source of revenue for terrorist organizations. The value of ivory is simply too high to deter poachers. More....