By Max Fisher
On his visit to Tanzania on Monday, President Obama will unveil a new, $10 million initiative to curb rhinoceros and elephant poaching in Africa. International trade in illegal rhino horns and elephant tusks, driven in large part by rising demand in China and Thailand, is rapidly depleting the animals’ populations in Africa. Obama’s plan significantly increases American involvement in the issue, which Hillary Clinton also worked on as secretary of state. But this map, from a recent United Nations report, shows just how vast of an industry this has become:
The big problem is that time is running out. A 2011 study estimated that 7.4 percent of all African elephants may have been killed by poachers that year alone. From 1998 to 2007, the global ivory trade doubled, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Since 2007, it has doubled again. And the trade is shifting from small smuggler networks to large-scale operations: seizures of 800-plus kilos of illegal ivory shipments (that’s about 1 ton) have doubled just since 2009. Elephants and rhinos are simply being wiped out, and quickly.
The other problem is economics, the simple force of which might be too much to overcome. Some of the countries trafficking in ivory and rhino tusks are among the poorest per capita in the world. Elephant tusks are worth $1,000 per pound, Ginette Hemley of the World Wildlife Fund told my colleague Juliet Eilperin; rhino horns sell for $30,000 per pound, about twice as much as gold. By comparison, Afghan opium farmers can charge about $606 per pound.
In Tanzania, 85 percent of exports are agricultural. One of its biggest exports is cashews, prices of which have been so low that 85,000 tons of Tanzanian cashews went unsold last year. More....