News / Africa

Asia's Growing Wealth Fuels Poaching

A Chinese man looks at the elephant ivory carvings on display for sale in Beijing, China, July 17, 2008.
A Chinese man looks at the elephant ivory carvings on display for sale in Beijing, China, July 17, 2008.
Daniel Schearf
Asia’s growing class of wealthy professionals is helping fuel the illicit trade in Africa’s endangered species, which experts say is attracting organized crime syndicates of poachers and smugglers hoping to capitalize on the lucrative industry.
 
Worth $8 billion to $10 billion annually, a large portion of the trade satisfies demands of a large Asian market that value animal parts for traditional medicine and, increasingly, as status symbols.
 
Activists protest Rhinoceros poaching outside the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, March 29, 2012.Activists protest Rhinoceros poaching outside the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, March 29, 2012.
x
Activists protest Rhinoceros poaching outside the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, March 29, 2012.
Activists protest Rhinoceros poaching outside the Chinese embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, March 29, 2012.
Although it has no proven health benefits, powdered rhinoceros horn is believed to be an aphrodisiac that also cures cancer. Tiger penis is thought to help sex drive, while the animal's bones are believed to cure arthritis and rheumatism. And animals such as the pangolin, a scaly anteater, are sought both for medicine and meat.
 
But Steve Galster, director of the Bangkok-based Freeland Foundation, an anti-trafficking organization, notes a recent shift in the consumer demand. Elephant tusks and rhino horn in particular are being purchased for show rather than consumption.
 
"According to our surveys, [it's predominantly] men between the ages of 25 and 45 who think it's a prestigious thing," he said. "Basically they want to show off that 'I've got this rhino horn; I've got this ivory tusk; I've got this tiger bone' or whatever."
 
The increased demand for trophies has poachers slaughtering some of Africa's most endangered species at unprecedented rates. This has some conservationists worried that elephants and rhinos could go the way of Asia's wild tiger population, which has dwindled from around 100,000 to a few thousand over the past century. The tigers face possible extinction in the coming decade.
 
Likewise, African wild rhinos used to number in the hundreds of thousands but there are now less than 30,000. As numerous news reports indicate, thousands of African elephants are poached annually for their ivory tusks.
 
Some countries are toughening anti-poaching laws, but legislation in many African countries remains lenient and, for many in the trade, the benefits outweigh the costs.  
 
With tusks fetching up to $2,000 per kilo, and comparable amounts of rhino horn commanding up to $50,000, China's black market alone offers global criminal syndicates enormously high profits that entail very low risk of criminal prosecution.
 
This has turned the trade into a dangerous game.
 
In the Congo basin alone, poaching gangs have killed roughly 100 wildlife officers in the past decade, according to Doug Goessman, Freeland Foundation's law enforcement advisor.
 
"When you see a little ivory bauble that you've bought thinking ... it was old or from a legal elephant, no, it's from African elephants," he said. "Somebody may have died so that little piece of jewelry could have made it to Southeast Asia or to China or the United States."
 
Although anti-poaching laws are gradually getting more restrictive across Asia, Galster said they are still not tough enough to deter smugglers.
 
Customs and Excise Department officials address press conference following seizure of poached ivory, Hong Kong, November 16, 2012.Customs and Excise Department officials address press conference following seizure of poached ivory, Hong Kong, November 16, 2012.
x
Customs and Excise Department officials address press conference following seizure of poached ivory, Hong Kong, November 16, 2012.
Customs and Excise Department officials address press conference following seizure of poached ivory, Hong Kong, November 16, 2012.
"Loopholes and laws need to be closed, particularly in Thailand. Vietnam has some work to do as well," he said. "China has probably the strongest laws in the region."
 
While trafficking authorities say China is making huge strides to crack down on wildlife smugglers, the country's robust economy, coupled with a population of 1.3 billion, means even a little demand goes a long way. So addressing the consumer base directly, Galster added, is critical.
 
"We need to change behaviors, [and] that's going to take a while," he said. "In the meantime, frankly, we got to catch the traffickers that are taking advantage of this."
 
Chinese authorities say they are doing just that.
 
"In China, currently, the Asian illegal trade in big cats and rhino horn is completely under control," said Wan Zimin, chief of law enforcement and training at China's Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office. "The illegal trade in ivory is reducing [sic] step by step. ... Regarding pangolins, we have also gained control but still need strengthening."
 
As a traditional consumer and exporter of wildlife, China, Wan added, will always need to satisfy some basic consumer demand. But he said the way that demand is satisfied could evolve.
 
"There has already been a very big change in perspective," he said, proposing captive breeding as one potential way to undercut illegal trafficking.
 
Still, a perfect solution remains elusive. Although captive breeding can be effective in meeting demand without killing wild populations, it remains controversial, and some critics say it actually increases demand by allowing the legal sale of rare animal parts.

Listen to report on poaching by Daniel Schearf
Listen to report on poaching by Daniel Schearf i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

 

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More