Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Pavithra Rao

The sit­u­a­tion is dire: slaugh­ter­ing wild an­i­mals for their horns and tusks is mush­room­ing and the statis­tics are so wor­ri­some that ex­perts are call­ing for a crack­down on wildlife crime.

This was the fo­cus of this year’s Wan­gari Maathai Day, com­mem­o­rated on 3 March and named af­ter the late Kenyan No­bel Prize Lau­re­ate and founder of the Green Belt Move­ment, who was known for her pas­sion and strug­gle to pre­serve na­ture.

The event be­gan with a grand ges­ture: Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta presided over the burning of 15 tons of ele­phant tusks seized from poach­ers to high­light the need to end the $200 bil­lion il­licit trade tak­ing place in Africa, es­pe­cially the killing of ele­phants for their tusks, rhi­nos for their horns and the il­le­gal traf­fick­ing of great apes. Ban­ners pro­claim­ing, “Wildlife crime is se­ri­ous; let’s get se­ri­ous about wildlife crime” were promi­nently on dis­play.

The Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora says poach­ing is steadily threat­en­ing the pop­u­la­tion of ele­phants and rhi­nos in Africa. In South Africa, for ex­am­ple, rhino poach­ing has risen dras­ti­cally from 10 cases in 2006 to 1,215 in 2014. Back in 2011, black rhi­nos were al­ready de­clared ex­tinct as a re­sult of poach­ing.

How­ever, it’s not just the ele­phants and rhi­nos that are un­der threat. Great apes, in­clud­ing chim­panzees, orang­utans, go­ril­las and bono­bos are also be­ing il­le­gally traf­ficked. The UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme Great Apes Sur­vival Part­ner­ship ( UNEP- GRASP) says that great apes are sold for meat and left­over body parts, such as limbs, heads and even bones, are then traded for use in medicine.

In ad­di­tion, th­ese an­i­mals are be­ing sold to sat­isfy a grow­ing de­mand for ex­otic pets or for use in cir­cuses and zoos. Ele­phants, rhi­nos and great apes play an im­por­tant role in main­tain­ing healthy ecosys­tems and their ab­sence could have se­ri­ous reper­cus­sions on the bio­di­ver­sity of key re­gions.

UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon noted the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion dur­ing a speech for In­ter­na­tional Wildlife Day: “Com­bat­ing this crime is not only es­sen­tial for con­ser­va­tion ef­forts and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment; it will con­trib­ute to achiev­ing peace and se­cu­rity in trou­bled re­gions where con­flicts are fu­elled by th­ese il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.”

UNEP Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Achim Steiner is call­ing for ac­tion and the scale-up of in­ter­ven­tion that in­cludes fi­nanc­ing.

AP Photo/Khalil Senosi

Fif­teen tons of ele­phant tusks were set on fire dur­ing an anti-poach­ing cer­e­mony in Nairobi, Kenya, early this year.

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