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