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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora