By Daniel M. Ashe
Almost daily, it seems, there are new and credible reports about the senseless slaughter of elephants, rhinos or other endangered species by sophisticated wildlife-trafficking networks. Just this spring, news filtered in about a slaughter of forest elephants in the Central African Republic. We have video confirmation of nearly 30 elephants being killed and more wounded. It is clear that poaching is epidemic and is threatening some of the world’s most iconic and endearing species.
Although foreign species may seem like other nations’ problem, nothing could be further from the truth. The native species and ecosystems of our planet support billions of people and drive the world’s economy. Everyone has a stake in sustaining these fragile ecosystems and species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plays an essential role in combating global wildlife trafficking. Since the federal budget sequestration took effect in March, however, our ability to carry out this mission has been diminished, just as the situation for endangered species around the globe has become increasingly critical.
The increase in danger to elephants is no surprise. Rising prices for ivory have provoked a skyrocketing level of poaching for African elephants in the wild, resulting in an unprecedented threat to the survival of the species. Thanks to conservation efforts in range countries and global restrictions on ivory trade, elephants had been staging a recovery in many parts of Africa since the 1980s. But poachers, driven by surging Asian demand for elephant ivory, are again pushing elephants toward extinction. As recently as 2008, for example, Tanzania was home to the second-largest population of elephants in Africa, with an estimated 110,000 to 165,000 elephants. By Tanzania’s own counts, however, its most significant population dropped from 70,000 in 2006 to 40,000 by 2009. Today as few as 23,000 elephants may remain. More....