Elephant and rhinoceros stocks are dropping dramatically in Africa. More and more wildlife is falling prey to worsening poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. An international conference in London is exploring ways of fighting these criminal activities.
Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks is representing Germany at the conference. "We must act to ensure that the next generation does not only know the world’s largest land animal from the history books," she stressed.
But it is not only elephants that are threatened by excessive poaching. In 2013 poachers killed more than 1,000 rhinoceros in South Africa – more than twice as many as in 2012. Elephant ivory and the rhinoceros horn are sold at exorbitant prices in Asia, where rhino horn is prized as a sexual stimulant.
Poachers benefit As the market for wildlife products grows, the business of poachers, traffickers and traders also flourishes. One reason is the growing prosperity in many Asian countries, which is pushing up demand for luxury products like ivory. This is compounded by political instability and corruption in some of the African states in which the animals live. The result has been a meteoric rise in poaching, which affects not only elephants and rhinos, but also other profitable animal and timber species.
Organised crime Wildlife crime has never before been so highly organised nor so militarised as it is today. The profits that can be made are comparable to the drug trade or trafficking in people. These profits are then used to finance other criminal activities – with fatal consequences for the affected states, some of which have fragile political structures.
30 states are clamping down on the illegal trade At a previous international conference in Botswana, 30 states agreed on specific measures to protect the African elephant. One such measure was to make wildlife crime a serious crime in all participating states. National legislation is to be amended accordingly. It is also important to effectively reduce demand for illegal wildlife products in the purchasing countries. To this end it is vital to reach the people that buy these products and explain to them the damage that is being done. For this reason it was also decided to use education and information campaigns to fight the trade in ivory and other wildlife products.
Germany is financing species protection Germany is helping protect threatened animals. "The fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade is one of the focuses of German environmental and development policy," said the Federal Environment Minister. Every year Germany provides 500 million euros to preserve forests and other ecosystems. An ever larger percentage of this sum is being channelled into the fight against poaching and the trafficking of wildlife products. In southern Africa alone, about 10 million euros are currently being spent on training game wardens. In Africa as a whole, protected area management and the training of game wardens is receiving around 240 million euros within the framework of Germany’s development cooperation.
For any effective protection of wild animals, a substantial contribution on the part of the United Nations will be needed. Along with Gabon, Germany has established a UN Group of Friends on Poaching and Illicit Wildlife trafficking in New York. A UN resolution or a special envoy could be the next step.
"The fight has only just begun," said the Environment Minister. "But this is a fight we must win."