The threat of poaching and the trafficking of animals is a problem in many countries in the world, especially where endangered species are involved; the value of the illegal wildlife trade is currently estimated to stand at approximately $19 billion. A look at the wildlife statistics from across the planet paints an alarming picture of the situation. The exception is Nepal, who through it’s efforts has almost completely eradicated illegal wildlife activity.
Asia and Africa are two continents particularly affected by the illegal wildlife trade; the biodiversity and abundance of spectacular animals that reside there attract the attention of poachers. Poachers and traffickers often target endangered species for the financial value contained within the kill. It is estimated that nearly 100 African elephants are poached every day, mostly for the ivory on their tusks, which are often sold in Asia for up to $3000 a kilogram.
Rhino horns also fetch riches on the black market, and the extremely rare animal has suffered a 5000% rise in poaching between 2007-2012. Other endangered species that are under constant threat include tigers, pandas and gorillas.
One country that is particularly riddled by a presence of traffickers and poachers, is Kenya. The illegal wildlife activity figures for the first three months of 2014 were recently released by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The figures show that there has been little improvement over the last year, despite KWS claiming that increased surveillance had deterred criminals. Kenya recorded the killing of over 300 elephants in 2012, as well as 52 rhinos, an increase from the year before. This year is set to be no different with 51 elephants, and 18 rhinos already killed within the quarter.
Organised criminals are thought to be at the centre of the illegal wildlife trade, and the security services in Kenya say that the poachers may be highly sophisticated, employing technology such as night vision goggles, often armed with machine guns.
Although the KWS claim they are making arrests, Richard Leakey, a former head of KWS, and founder of the Wildlife Direct association claims otherwise. He states that hardly anyone who is convicted of poaching ever faces prison in Kenya, and goes further with his implications that KWS may have been infiltrated by powerful individuals, who are themselves involved with the trade.
Despite the alarming statistics on wildlife poaching, and the trafficking of endangered species, the WWF, along with other organisations, have made some progress, especially in their efforts of conservation. This, combined with international efforts to stop poachers, has made a difference. For example, the combined efforts of WWF and other groups to help the survival of endangered African Rhinos which began in 1997, lead to an increase in white rhino from 8,466 to 17,500, as well as an expanse of black rhino from only 2,500, to 4000 today.
Governments too are interested in improving the situation and cracking down on illegal wildlife trade. In February the UK government called for a meeting of global leaders to better protect endangered species. Officials from over 50 countries attended the meeting where methods to clamp down on the wildlife trade were discussed. Governments aim to tackle the issue by strengthening the law and justice for those involved, reducing the demand for black market wildlife products, and supporting the communities that are affected by the trade.
One country has managed to almost completely eradicate illegal wildlife activity, despite the fact that a number of highly prized endangered species can be found there. Nepal managed to stamp out all poaching in 2011, and achieved the same merits in 2013. Only one rhino was killed in 2012. Recent years have seen rises in the rhino, and tiger populations, as a direct result of the countries actions against the illegal wildlife trade.
Nepal achieves its aims by operating a zero tolerance policy towards the illegal wildlife trade, and made 700 arrests against a rhino poaching network in 2013. The country can impose a prison sentence of up to 15 years for poachers and smugglers, which has proven to be enough of a deterrent for most. Tougher law is also combined with education and support within communities, and coordinated team efforts between law enforcers and park agencies.
With illegal wildlife activity almost something of the past in Nepal, world leaders can only look forward to implementing methods to contain, control, and disseminate criminal gangs. The priority is to provide more protection for endangered species, which are hunted, and then traded like disposable commodities.
Despite the achievements of Nepal, the WWF and other organisations, aswell as governments and leader across the world, illegal wildlife trade still poses a huge problem. With the statistics for poaching and trafficking still telling an alarming story, governments, charities, and associations will have to increase their efforts if they are to follow Nepal’s lead and stop the illegal wildlife trade.
By Matthew Warburton