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The Issue of Poaching and The Urgent Need to Stop It

  • Subject: Social Issues
  • Essay Topic: Poaching
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 2496
  • Published: 16 December 2021
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Ever since the first speck of life bloomed into existence on Earth, the inhabitants of this planet have strived for the top position of the apex predator. Humans have evolved to achieve the title of being the alpha species but have also used methods that unfortunately, wiped out many other species in order to survive. Poaching is the illegal hunting or capturing of wildlife and it is presently one of the most destructive methods that can directly cause the extinction of species which is why it is important to study this topic. Africa is a land known for its beautiful landscapes and wildlife. It is also famous for the 5 megafauna species that roam the continent: the elephant, the cape buffalo, the lion, the leopard, and the rhino, also known as Africa’s ‘Big Five’. However, possessing such alluring features comes at a price. These animals are highly sought after for their value on the black market making Africa an attractive place for poachers. Additionally, because of these impressive megafauna, tourism is a popular activity for visitors in Africa. Tourism brings much profit to the economy of Africa and supports many rangers and workers in the tourism industry. However, poaching activity has severely impacted these two important aspects of Africa. With that in mind, what are the effects of poaching in Africa and what is being done about it? Poaching affects natural ecosystems and the economy because it disrupts the population balance by driving essential species to the edge of extinction and by repelling tourists who are important factors for the livelihoods of people who depend on tourism for income. To reduce the poaching activity, many government organizations have introduced new technology and created sanctuaries for endangered species. To attract visitors, tourist companies have created new programs that involve more engaging activities.

Poaching is an international crime as it occurs on all seven continents. Any animal that has desirable horns, fur, antlers, claws, teeth, tusks, or skin are hunted down and their body parts are sold at a high price. Poachers are most commonly small groups of people who are seeking to make a large amount of money quickly. In Africa, poachers act in the wild or sneak into protected areas to look for their target. They kill the animal first and then cut off the valued body part. For example, rhinos and elephants are shot and then their horns or tusks are hacked off before poachers check to see if the animal is actually dead. The horn or tusk is gored out from the skull to get as much ivory as possible making it extremely painful if the animal is not fully unconscious yet. Poaching has been a tradition that began many centuries ago for people who needed to hunt for food or money. According to an article written by Angela Thompsell, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of British and African History at the College at Brockport, “There has been poaching in Africa since antiquity — people hunted in areas claimed by other states or reserved for royalty, or they killed protected animals”. However, poaching began to escalate during the 1970’s due to Asia’s demand for ivory and the elephant and rhino populations were decreasing at an alarming rate. The article states that, “In 1973, 80 countries agreed to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (commonly known as CITES) governing the trade in endangered animals and plants. Several African animals, including rhinoceroses, were among the initially protected animals.” This was a step forward in recognizing the consequences that poaching brings.

Unfortunately, poaching continues into today’s society. A statistic released by the African Wildlife Foundation shows that 97.6% of rhino population decreased since 1960. 1,000 Mountain gorillas remain. 35,000 elephants killed per year. 43% of lion population lost in 21 years. 2,000 Grevy’s zebras remain. With such a decrease in the populations in Africa’s ecosystems, there are many imbalances between the species. Without maintaining the frail stability of the ratios between populations, the ecosystem is set to fail because it can no longer depend on the animals to keep each other in check. Predator and prey are essential for a thriving environment. With prey, overgrowth of flora is prevented. With predators, the prey’s population is sustained at a reasonable amount to ward off the overconsumption of plant life. However, Africa’s top predator, the lion, is facing the barrel of a poacher’s rifle. Lions are also hunted for their fur, claws, and teeth for accessories such as jewelry, coats, or rugs. According to The Big Life Foundation, Animals of Amboseli, lion claws are worth $55 each, the teeth are 700 dollars each, and the bones are worth $1200 per kilo. Of course, with such promising profit, lions are a definite target of poachers and, “The loss of lions has a negative effect on Africa’s fragile ecosystems. Lions play an important role in the food chain, helping to regulate numbers of the more dominant herbivore species, such as zebra and buffalo. Without lions to control them, these species can out-compete other animals, causing their extinction and reducing biodiversity”. With only 20,000 or less lions left in the wild, the feeble amount of predators is a significant loss to the balance between carnivores and prey in Africa. Perhaps the most well-known subjects of poaching are rhinos and elephants. This is due to the shocking amount of rhinos and elephants poached throughout history. The ivory in their horns and tusks are claimed to have supposed medicinal healing properties and are desired in parts of Asia. Thus, they were a popular franchise for poachers and ivory’s value was raised in the Black Market. The Big Life Foundation, Animals of Amboseli, lists that a rhino horn is valued at $50,000 per kilo while elephant tusks are worth $2,000 per kilo. These animals are regrettably the most expensive and therefore, have the most amount of killings. Elephants are enormous herbivores that are capable of shaping the African terrain. Conservation biologist, Nathan Gichohi of the African Wildlife Foundation wrote, “ they trample forests and dense grasslands, making room for smaller species to co-exist. Elephants also create water holes used by other wildlife as they dig dry riverbeds when rainfall is low. Herds travel over vast rangelands, and they disperse seeds in their dung, which helps generate new green growth’. Elephants are an important species to Africa but only 450,000-700,000 remain compared to the several million that existed a century ago. The symbiotic relationships between each species is a wonderous system that needs the natural cycle of death to preserve the living. However, these are deaths that were caused by artificial reasons. Poaching is a different factor that blocks the full potential of an ecosystem by killing the species that it needs to function. The number of organisms are decreasing at a much more faster pace than it should in a natural, untouched environment. If poaching continues at this rate, extinction of Africa’s iconic fauna will be the future. Without a primary predator such as lions, herbivores will be able to consume plants until undergrowth become a rarity. Eventually, they will starve and other carnivores will as well since they have no more prey. Other species will ultimately die out and the outcome will be the collapse of African ecosystems. Thus, there must be a healthy equilibrium between all life to create a successful environment.

Not only is poaching harmful for animals, it also ruins the lives of many civilians who are involved with the tourist industry or wildlife refuges. According to Earthshare Save the Black Rhino, the tourist industry provides around 1 million jobs. Those occupations pay for their families and support their livelihoods. A main attraction for tourists are the very animals that are being poached. Any of the Big Five are a majestic sight to see. However, because of such a detrimental blow to their populations, they are becoming increasingly rare and some parks blocked off access to see them in order to protect them. This eliminates the tourist’s reason to visit and support wildlife parks. Save the Rhino, Responsible Rhino Tourism article states, “In 2006-14, rhino poaching caused total annual losses to tourism revenue in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe of between €205.76 million and €230.76 million, according to which report you read. It is predicted that the extinction of one of the ‘big five’ species would result in wildlife tourism falling by 20%[2]”. Extinction is a very likely future for not just one of the 5 megafauna, but for all of the big five. If the tourist industry fails, so do the lives of the million people it supported. Additionally, “ A boycott could have a detrimental effect on a community’s economy since restaurants, hotels, rentals, and other attractions would suffer,” (The Devastating Effects of Wildlife Poaching, OneGreenPlanet). Poaching now lowers the sales of the whole tourist franchise. Tourism was one of the main sources of economic income but without it, many will be left in poverty. Poaching can make living conditions poorer for civilians but it can also take the lives of rangers who were trying to defend endangered species in protected areas. According to ‘Poaching’ Global Issues in Context Online Collection, Gale, over the past 13 years, more than 1,000 park rangers were killed by poachers who wanted to reach the endangered animals. This elevates the scale of how many lives were taken because of poaching. The lives of rangers and wildlife are inevitably connected. The sad fate of one group condemns the other to the same misfortune. Even if most rangers are not killed, they face that risk each day they patrol or confront poachers. Poaching is known to be an affair that is most associated with wild creatures. There is a tremendous amount of differences between the lifestyles of humans and wild animals. All life should be cherished but poaching is an issue that affects both divisions.

To counter the genocide of wildlife, governments around the world have taken actions to reduce poaching activities. Technology has a very wide variety of uses and is also used to stop poachers. In BBC Earth article, The Technology Fighting Poachers by Zoe Cormier, technology such as synthetics and camera traps. Synthetics are built by creating the same genetic material that a rhino horn or tusk is made out of. In China, the properties of ivory are highly regarded. By mimicking a real horn or tusk, geneticists were hoping to replace them without killing any more elephants and rhinos. As for camera traps, they were able to detect poachers by using their thermal signature instead of regular images since they were difficult to distinguish from other objects. As poaching became a more important official issue, sanctuaries in Africa were built in order to save the remaining endangered species. The Wildlife Conservation Network noted Zakouma National Park as it held 520 elephants. In 2018, 127 calves were born which is a great addition to the wavering population. The matter of lost tourism was addressed by Save the Rhino in their Responsible Rhino Tourism article. They have initiated new programs such as voluntourism which involves tourists directly caring for a community and wildlife in Africa. This was made in hopes that it would be an impactful experience in order to gain much more support for the environment. Visitor education was also added to the safari aspect of touring. On safaris, tourists would not only see the wildlife but they would also be informed about the issue of poaching to raise more awareness. With more background information, visitors who are curious are able to truly understand what the animals they observed went through.

Those solutions were all a step forward in shielding the animals from poachers. However, there were also some solutions that were not effective. For example, dehorning a rhino instead of killing it. Ts possible to remove the horn or tusk without harming the elephant or rhino as long as the root of the canal is intact. So, The African Wildlife Foundation answered the question, “Why is it that poachers kill elephants for their ivory? Can’t they just tranquilize the elephant, cut off the tusks, and let them live? They grow back, right?” that was asked by the New York Mills, USA. The foundation answered with “Poachers kill elephants rather than tranquilize them because they want to avoid arrest and tranquilizing an elephant is time-consuming, expensive, dangerous, and requires a very specialized expertise. Poachers are in the business of making money.” This explains why poachers resort to killing the animal when in reality, death is not necessary. Some other potential solutions were to poison or dye the tusk or horn. However, they were not realistic solutions. The director of Wildlife Crime, Rikkert Reijnen explained why they would not have been worthwhile. Horns and tusks are basically a specialized bone, meaning that they can grow back. They are also not connected to the bloodstream and so the poison would be injected through the horn directly which is extremely difficult because of its density. Dyeing the tusk or horn would result to be a tedious business. Since their ivory grows back, the dye will eventually fade away with the new bone. Because of this, it is impractical to expect to re-dye each elephant and rhino every few years.

Students like ourselves can help contribute to the effort to stop poaching. There are government organizations that are looking for support through donations. Editorial manager of OneGreenPlanet, Kate Good listed projects, petitions, and organizations to donate to. Signing The World Wildlife’s Pledge is a promise to speak against animal cruelty and to never buy illegal animal products. The Ivory for Elephants also aims to change the wildlife protections policies for it become much more strict. The World Wildlife Fund’s project called Back a Ranger allows us to donate for a ranger to help support their lifestyles. The International Fund for Animal Welfare also accepts donations for their efforts in stopping wildlife crime. There are many international establishments that we can help aid, but the most important thing we can do on our part is to be aware of the consequences poaching brought. And if this topic ever comes up in the future, we can help spread information about poaching.

Poaching kills off the population until they are near extinction creating an imbalance in an ecosystem between predator and prey. The lives of the rangers and people who are a part of the tourist industry are also under heavy stress because of poaching. We can always sign petitions or donate to organizations. Again, the most important aspect is to be aware of how many wildlife are killed every day. This issue made me wonder, why must such a massive amount of life die for it to just then, catch the attention of our world? It is not too late to save the remaining species left but assertive actions must be taken. In order to preserve the Earth, it starts with protecting the life that this planet holds. 

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