The Price of Poaching
Communities are are taking a stand against poaching—and winning.
by Charles Oluchina
An epidemic of poaching is sweeping Central and East Africa. Countries such as Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo are seeing their elephants slaughtered by the hundreds every year for their tusks. And rhinos, whose keratin horns are prized in traditional medicine, are badly suffering, too.
In Kenya, 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were killed illegally in 2013. As I’m writing this, in spring of 2014, three rhinos have already been slaughtered in Nairobi National Park, one of the most heavily patrolled parks in the country. The killings happened within sight of a city of more than 3 million people.
It’s the worst outbreak of poaching since the 1980s, when more than 800 tons of ivory left Africa every year and the continent’s elephant populations plunged from 1.3 million to 600,000. Most of the ivory is bound for Asia, especially China, where a booming economy means more people are able to afford ivory products that are considered status symbols: bracelets, iPhone cases—even, in tragic irony, carved elephant figurines.
By some estimates, ivory prices have risen tenfold in the past five years. Poaching has escalated on many levels: Heavily armed gangs, using automatic rifles and night-vision goggles, are backed by crime networks in Africa and Asia and have been linked to militant terrorist groups in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo…
photos by Ami Vitale (her website can be found here, instagram and twitter)