By Keith Martin
US President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that the US will contribute $10 million (Dh36.7 million) to combat rhinoceros and elephant poaching in Africa comes at a crucial time to address an ecological catastrophe.
In 2012, a shocking 30,000 elephants in Africa were slaughtered for their ivory, 7.4 per cent of the entire population. Rhinos are in an even more precarious situation. Last year in South Africa, the last bastion for these species, 668 rhino were killed for their horns. This year, as of July 31, 536 rhino have been poached in South Africa. This is out of a global population of fewer than 30,000 rhinos, compared to 500,000 in Africa and Asia at the start of the 20th century.
Terrorist organisations like Al Shabab and the Lord’s Resistance Army, and militant groups from Africa’s Sahel to Somalia, are slaughtering elephants and rhinos to fund their violent activities. International crime syndicates, acting as middlemen, earn hundreds of millions of dollars trafficking in ivory and rhino horn. Purchasing these products enables these groups to have the funds to be a persistent threat to global security.
For countries like Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa, home to these charismatic species, their existence fuels an ecotourism industry that generates millions of jobs and billions of dollars in foreign exchange. Wipe out these animals, and the tourists who come to see them will vanish. Jobs and futures will follow suit and many people will be tossed into a life of grinding poverty.
Outside Africa it is not well-known that the fight to protect these animals has been a bloody, low-level war pitting lightly armed wildlife officers against heavily armed poachers. In this battle, a terrible toll has been paid by those who safeguard these animals. Poachers have murdered hundreds of game rangers in the last few years. More....