News / Health

Connect the Dots: Infant Mortality, Graft and Elephant Poaching

A severely malnourished child lays by his mother at Bangui's pediatric center in Bangui, Dec. 17, 2013.A severely malnourished child lays by his mother at Bangui's pediatric center in Bangui, Dec. 17, 2013.
x
A severely malnourished child lays by his mother at Bangui's pediatric center in Bangui, Dec. 17, 2013.
A severely malnourished child lays by his mother at Bangui's pediatric center in Bangui, Dec. 17, 2013.
Reuters
What do infant mortality and elephant poaching have in common?  Plenty, according to conservation groups.

Researchers have for the first time made clear connections between elephant poaching in Africa, which has been surging to meet soaring ivory demand in Asia, and factors such as poverty, as shown by high rates of child deaths, and corruption.

These links have always been suspected but never pinned down with hard data.

The findings come in a report prepared for an African elephant summit in Botswana in December by groups including TRAFFIC, which tracks the global trade in wildlife products, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Areas where child mortality and poverty are worst also see higher levels of elephant poaching, but poor villagers typically do not benefit from the illicit ivory trade.

In this regard, the ivory trade - with its long and blood-stained history - is similar to other extractive industries in Africa, which have been exploited to meet demand elsewhere with few rewards for local people.

Demand for ivory - used for carvings and valued for millennia for its color and texture - has been rising sharply in newly affluent Asian countries, notably China, fuelling a new wave of elephant slaughter.

Following a decline in the 1990s, poaching of the world's largest land mammal has risen dramatically and in 2012 an estimated 15,000 elephants were illegally killed at 42 sites in Africa monitored by MIKE - the U.N.-backed program for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants.

Since 2010, elephant poaching levels in Africa have exceeded 5 percent of the total population - a tipping point because killings are now outpacing the animals' birth rate.

In a related trend, the killing of rhinos for their horns - used in traditional medicine in Vietnam and China - has also soared, notably in South Africa, home to the vast majority of the animals.

According to South African government statistics, as of Dec. 19, a record 946 rhinos had been poached in the country in 2013, compared to 668 in all of 2012.

Poverty proxy

The report found a striking link between infant mortality rates - measured by the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 10,000 live births - and the illegal killing of elephants.

“Human infant mortality, which is interpreted as a proxy for poverty, is the single strongest site-level correlate ... with sites suffering from higher levels of poverty experiencing higher levels of elephant poaching,” the report said.

The relationship between poverty and poaching - in Africa and elsewhere - has long been assumed because wildlife is a source of food or money for impoverished rural dwellers.

But links between measurements of poverty and living standards, such as infant mortality, and the illicit killing of elephants, have not been made before with the kind of clarity that researchers have found in the data over the past two years.

Julian Blanc, a co-author of the study and acting coordinator for MIKE, told Reuters infant mortality was the best barometer for poverty because data for it, based on work by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, exists at local levels.

It can therefore be linked to localized incidents of elephant poaching, making it far more useful than other measurements such as per capita GDP, which can give a skewed picture, especially in countries with high levels of inequality.

Ziama in Guinea, Niassa in Mozambique, and Bangassou in Central African Republic were the three areas covered in the report with the highest rates of infant mortality, ranging from 1,240 to almost 1,400 deaths per 10,000 live births.

All three areas also had extremely high levels of elephant poaching. In the case of Ziama, its elephant population is small but has been reduced by over half in the past few years.

The next four areas in the infant mortality rankings were all found in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report also found, using Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, that at the national level “high poaching levels are more prevalent in countries where governance is weaker, and vice versa”.

Poverty and governance are the “enabling” factors for poaching, with consumer demand the other key link in the chain.

Poor governance and high poverty levels overlap between countries such as Congo and Central African Republic, which are also areas where local people see little value in elephant populations.

“In many parts of Africa people living with elephants derive no benefits from that coexistence and only bear costs in terms of crop damage, injury or death,” Blanc said in a telephone interview from his Nairobi base.

Tropical, land-locked

Many of these countries - such as Central African Republic - also suffer from the development curses of having tropical climates, which impose the heavy disease burden seen in their infant mortality rates, and being landlocked, which imposes economic costs.

Still, that does not mean that wildlife in such places could not be utilized in a way that might bring economic benefits. Heavily forested and tropical Gabon, for example, is building a wildlife tourist industry aimed at the more adventurous.

But elsewhere in central Africa, elephants, a natural resource that could lift rural economies in the form of eco-tourism, or even a regulated ivory trade down the road, are being exterminated, depriving future generations of potential income.

Such poverty traps serve as a sobering reminder, against the backdrop of the “Africa Rising” narrative, that much of the world's poorest continent is still being excluded from the region's dynamic economic growth and investment story.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid