By Benjamin Meade
Last year, more rhinos were killed than in any year before, averaging two a day. The assumption that all poachers are desperate and the illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn and so on is the only way for them to survive, is wrong. In truth, poaching gangs or networks are as sophisticated and intrinsic as the animals they are killing.
Rhinos.org says, “Rhino poaching is driven by well-organized and well-equipped crime syndicates.” Despite South Africa’s strong judicial system and the amount of funds used for anti-poaching programs ($7.5 million) it has been unable to stop a significant rise in poaching. In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhinos to poaching. In 2012, that number reached 668, a 5000% increase.
South Africa is the richest country per capita in Africa, even among Native Africans so they aren’t as desperate for short term food. But even if it was, it is very difficult to butcher a rhino because of its touch hide, making it effectively useless for local populations. The reason that so many rhinos are killed is because in South-East Asia, especially rural and less-educated places, the Rhinoceros horn is misunderstood as a cure for certain illnesses like hangovers and cancer. Because of this false medication, Vietnam eradicated its own ‘Javan rhino’ in 2010.
A rhino horn costs $300 000, which is a huge profit incentive to bring rhino horn into South East Asia. Although 250 poachers were arrested last year, many still manage to slip through.
Poachers are backed up by new technologies including night goggles, silenced weapons and wait for it, helicopters. These are incredible machines that cost a lot of money to create, use and continue to use. These technologies would not be in use if there wasn’t a demand for the rhinoceros’ horn.
Free markets can be a beautiful thing as in the cases of the mobile phones, airplanes and International trade. However, there are places that unsupervised supply and demand don’t help anyone in the long term. Like how kids are working in sweatshops in India, the massacring of African ecosystems doesn’t benefit the local people at all but helps the super-rich and well-connected.
The Stakes are as high as ever for the world and for the local populations who deal with poaching on a daily basis. Al Gore said that the human race needed something to unite it together and that global warming will do the job. The global fight against climate change needs to understand that as much greenhouse gases come from the pipes of our cars as deserts of our continents. Allan Savory, a biologist, makes an interesting case that animals like elephants and rhinos help create stability in ecosystems and reversing desertification, and thus stopping climate change.
This also affects the local populations in the long term. Because of the declining local environment, the agriculture that they have depended on as income for generations will decline too. Other unintended consequences may appear too, such as wars, starvation, health crises, illegal immigration and many others born out of deficiency of trade, food and income.
This mechanism of poaching can be defeated. Until 2008, rhinos had been a growing population and can again.
Since the sophisticated and well-funded poaching gangs are in use it only makes sense that the anti-poaching have equally strong resources in combatting poachers.
Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq are countries that have frequently been under drone attacks. Machines that have killed civilians as well as terrorists are seen as both a necessary protection in the war on terror and as a radical Islamist recruiting tool.
However, I don’t think drones need to be the face of the United States military nor as a terrorist recruiting tool. I think they can represent something greater than either; the battle against poaching and the survival of the African ecosystem.
Google has recently spent $5 million on drones to protect rhinos from poaching in Africa and Asia. There are many reasons this new technology will work against the increasingly sophisticated poaching gangs.
These drones aren’t really the drones you see in action movies because they don’t carry any military capabilities and are mainly used for surveillance. These drones have a total capacity of 20 miles and can only stay airborne for an hour.
In Nepal, where this program started two years ago, has only lost two endangered rhinos. On average, before the drones came in, one rhino would be killed every month. This is a 91% reduction in rhinos poached.
There are many advantages to this, such as:
- Use previous footage to predicts where these gangs will strike next
- With the aerial view, they can watch possible impact zones
- Provide a deterrent to other attacks on rhinos and other endangered species
- Takes rangers off of the front lines, as there are more things being done prior to an attempted poach than protecting rhinos directly.
- An unforeseen benefit of scaring rhinos, elephants and other species away from critical zones because of the noise produced by the flying drone.
- Failing to mobilize a community around protecting their wildlife, as the drone can only be piloted by one ranger.
- There must be significant training on how to use these drones as they cost a lot of money.
With the protections of the elephants, rhinos and many other endangered species the long term survival of the cultural and environmental heritage of these villages will be secured.
In the same way that humans depend on a water source for their cities, the African culture has long been dependent upon the surrounding environment for its inspiration. Its art has always expressed the trunk of the elephant or the beauty of the Giraffes neck.
By protecting the interdependent cycle of this land we will protect its ecosystem and its people’s culture from extinction.
In the end, I think that despite all of the cons. The experiment in Nepal has proven great success in using technology to deter the violence against endangered species. However, I call into question the ethic of a top-down strategy against poaching vs. a grass roots, community oriented approach. References.