Extreme Poverty on Elephants and Rhinos
Usually, where there is poverty, there is crime involving drugs, guns, human trafficking or poaching. Illegal poaching is a multimillion-dollar industry that might involve the selling of elephant tusks or ivory and rhino horns on the black market. Poachers sell these items all around the world, and mostly in Asian markets. Extreme poverty in Africa has caused the killing of thousands of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns because it provides income for those who need it. Gangs and criminal organizations take advantage of those deep in poverty by giving them money to decimate the elephant and rhino populations. The impact of extreme poverty on elephants and rhinos has been devasting.

Elephant Poaching and Poverty

The Borgen project interviewed Barnaby Philips of the Elephant Protection Initiative to find out details about the elephants in Africa. According to Philips, the estimate of elephants in Africa currently sits at 400,000 and this number is rapidly dropping.

“In Africa, it is often said that 55 elephants are poached per day or some 20,000 per year,” said Philips.

Poachers kill elephants in Eastern and Southern Africa and two of the main countries involved with illegal poaching and the ivory trade are Tanzania and Kenya. The GDP per capita of Tanzania is 936.33, and in Kenya, it is 1,202.10, which places them as two of the poorest countries in the world. The Borgen Project’s interview with Amy Baird of Big Life Foundation. determined that those living in these conditions are willing to turn to poaching as a means of gaining income.

Amy Baird also stated that “Most of the traffickers and poachers we apprehend in the Greater Amboseli (National Park) ecosystem are male, their ages vary. We would guess that most have limited levels of education and come from poor backgrounds. After all, who would be willing to risk such high stakes except for the poorest and most desperate?”

The risk for these poachers is exceptionally high, but the average payout for them is always meager. The average price for 1 kilo of raw ivory in Africa can vary between $170 to $1,960, but the poachers receive very little of this amount.

“Ivory poaching, in particular, is highly tied to organized crime. The ones actually bearing the brunt of the punishment are not the ones making money off of the crime. They’re just cogs in a bigger wheel,” said Baird.

Efforts to stop the ivory trade have increased in recent years. The recent ban on the ivory trade in China has reduced the price of ivory on the black market. This ban will help deter poachers in the future along with new stricter laws such as Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that impose higher monetary fines and stiffer jail sentences to those committing wildlife crimes.

Rhino Poaching in Africa

The poaching and illegal trade of ivory closely link with the illegal trade of rhino horns. Usually, when there are laws about one, it has the same impact on the other. Rhinos are slightly different from elephants in the sense that there are so few left that they require a more aggressive approach to their conservation.

There are two species of rhino in Africa, the white and black rhino. Combined there are only 24,724 of these rhinos left in Africa, the majority of which are the white rhino. In 2018, poaching killed 892 rhinos in Africa.

Dr. Susie Ellis, the Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation, describes how poachers sell rhino horns on the black market for a number of things. People might use the horns to make ceremonial cups, as well as hairpins, paperweights, buttons and belt buckles. What people most frequently purchase these horns for is their use in the traditional medicine systems of many Asian countries, to cure a number of sicknesses. These ailments include headaches and cures for hangovers.

“In Vietnam, Rhino horn is seen as a gift item. It is a symbol of prestige in eastern Asian society. Businessmen will give it as a gift to close out a business deal,” said Ellis.

The rhino habitat spreads all over Southern Africa where conditions for the people there are extremely poor. Mozambique, for example, has one of the lowest GDP per capita at just $539.20. Rhino poachers themselves vary in demographics, but they seem to be young men in their late teens and early 20s who are deep in poverty. The middlemen, those that hire the poachers, make far more than those poaching.

“Most of these poachers are in a high level of poverty and are approached with a lucrative deal that is very tempting to them,” said Ellis.

Similar to the elephants, these poachers receive very little of the amount that the rhino horns sell for. Government organizations around the world are assisting the locals living within the rhino’s habitats in order to better educate and even employ some to reduce illegal poaching. Local communities will be in charge of monitoring rhinos. It is the local population’s responsibility to see and photograph every rhino once per month. The European Union funds programs that transport rhinos into safer areas where people can closely monitor them. If there are extra funds leftover from these programs, they go to local schools in order to educate about conservation.

The Future

Despite the overwhelming odds, there are positive signs for the future of rhinos in Africa. For example, the number of white rhinos in South Africa has been on the rise, numbering from under 100 in the early 1900s to almost 20,000 today.

Through conservation, education and funding, it is possible to end illegal poaching, trading of ivory and rhino horn and help the local population of Africa. Extreme poverty has gripped the nations where elephants and rhinos live and they suffer as a result of the conditions that these people live in. Desperation drives some of these poachers to hunt and kill these animals. Many are taking steps to create a positive outlook, but more is necessary if future generations want to enjoy these animals.

Samuel Bostwick
Photo: Flickr