By Adam Welz
African countries and private game reserves are engaging in an increasingly sophisticated arms race against poachers, yet the slaughter of elephants and rhinos continues. Some experts argue that the battle must be joined on a far wider front that targets demand in Asia and judicial dysfunction in Africa.
Every two weeks or so, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs publishes a rhino poaching update, a running tally of rhinoceroses illegally killed for lucrative Asian black markets, along with a summary of arrests of poachers and rhino horn couriers. The latest, dated August 7, lists 553 rhinos poached so far this year and 147 arrests. South Africa is on track to lose 900 to 1,000 rhinos to poachers in 2013, smashing last year’s macabre record of 668. The epidemic of rhino poaching that broke out in 2008 shows no sign of dying down.
Africa’s elephants are also being shot in extraordinary and rising numbers for their ivory, now a hot-selling status and investment commodity in China. Experts estimate that a mind-boggling 25,000 to 40,000 elephants are being killed annually across the continent, which could be close to 10 percent of the total number remaining, and significantly more than are born each year.
Rhino and elephant protectors have sprung into action in an increasingly militarized effort to stamp out this carnage. Governments have given game rangers better weapons, engaged intelligence analysts, and put spotter planes, helicopters, and unmanned drones into the air. Some have deployed their national defense forces into national parks. Private wildlife custodians have spent millions on their own armed anti-poaching guards, sniffer dogs, mini-drones, and informants.
But as the response to rhino and elephant poaching has become progressively more militarized, a stubborn reality remains: The continental-scale slaughter of rhinos and elephants continues to intensify, despite rising arrests and killings of poachers and increasing interdiction of illegal shipments of rhino horn and ivory. And although the toll would no doubt be worse without the anti-poaching efforts, experts say that other aspects of the battle to save Africa’s wildlife — including improving justice systems and launching efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products — have been given short shrift. More....