How productive is illegal poaching in Africa

Where there are wild animals, crime is not far

Even if they have teeth, claws and sharp beaks, the world of wild animals is now more than ever a world that needs to be protected. And by people before being attacked by people. The need for protection is increasing because the illegal trade in animals is steadily increasing. And animals can hardly count on the mercy of criminals.

Today it is no longer individual poachers who kill elephants to earn something. Rather, well-organized syndicates have taken over the killing business in our globalized world. They target the rare and important animals, the icons. Elephants and tigers, for example. According to WWF, there are only a good 3,200 wild tigers left in the world. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year and rhinoceros poaching increased by a staggering 5,000 percent between 2007 and 2012. And the demand is increasing.

The wrong picture

Rhinoceros, for example, are mainly exported to Vietnam. The horn is used here as a remedy for a large number of diseases. It should also be able to cure cancer. And rhino is chic to use, a health regimen fashion.

Rhinos fall victim to people's greed for their horns.

"It's used to detoxify when you're hungover," said Volker Homes. He is the conservation expert at WWF in Berlin. "Many people who use the horn in this way are rich and educated, they know that animals die because of them."

But that knowledge doesn't stop them from supporting the deadly industry. Awareness campaigns that the organization carries out to make consumers aware of the importance of rhinos do not seem to achieve the desired result. Richard Thomas, spokesman for the international wildlife conservation program Traffic, told Global Ideas that the images can sometimes even be counterproductive when it comes to changing consumer behavior: "We have seen consumers in Vietnam were so impressed by the photos that they were a part of it wanted to own those amazing animals in the pictures, "he said. "Basically, they want to show their friends that they have money."

Look at the whole picture

Thomas advocates moving away from this particular approach to tackling the problem. Rather, you have to look at the big picture. "It's not just an issue for environment ministries," he said. "It's one that needs to be taken seriously across the board."
Because not only nature suffers from the forbidden trade in animals and animal products, but also people, communities, entire societies. The work of a gamekeeper, for example, has never been so dangerous.

According to studies, a rhinoceros horn is worth $ 65,000 per kilo.

According to the Thin Green Line Foundation, 1,000 game rangers have died worldwide in the last 10 years. Most of them were killed by commercial poachers and armed militias. The emotional but also the economic burden of the families affected is enormous, and the effects are spreading outside the poaching areas along the illegal trade routes.

Andrea Crostas, managing director of the Elephant Action League and founder of Wildleaks, also attributes the collapse of the Kenyan tourism industry to the fact that it is increasingly dangerous to be out and about in wildlife parks. It should also not be underestimated that more and more animals were missing as a visitor magnet.

The power of money

The promise to get rich with this criminal act draws more and more people under the spell of criminal groups, according to Crostas. "The fact that you can make money for four years with a few tusks is very difficult to resist," he says. "But that one bad decision can result in young people either ending up in prison or even dying."

With an estimated annual turnover of 10 to 20 billion dollars, poaching and animal smuggling are in the same category as drug trafficking, corruption and even terrorism. Poaching therefore also has an impact on security, nationally and internationally. As strange as that may sound, even a snail could pose a security problem: "Abalone, large sea slugs, are illegally taken from the sea in South Africa and exchanged for drugs, in this case crystal meth. They are then smuggled into Hong Kong , "explains Richard Thomas. "The Chinese mafia controls the whole trade process and the further distribution of the animals in China."

Selling ivory doesn't just affect elephant numbers.

There are far more links between poaching and organized crime, Crosta said. Referring to his WildLeak portal, he tells of a middleman in Mozambique whose payroll includes port employees. "These people are used to smuggle ivory, but also drugs and weapons," said Crosta. "They could also let a bomb go through that were destined for Hong Kong or New York."

The next important steps

Environmentalists talk about a race against time to save elephants, tigers and rhinos from extinction. Stricter laws are needed to win this race. "People know that even if they get caught, they'll likely get away with bribing someone," says Volker Homes. "Poaching often takes place in countries that are politically not particularly stable anyway. As a result, the criminals often only receive a low sentence." If any. Even if the trade in animal products such as ivory and rhinoceros is banned, these bans are often simply ignored. There are also enough legal loopholes that allow criminals to sell their contraband after all.

Armadillos are also seen as increasingly threatened. Your dandruff contains the valuable substance keratin.

The WWF is committed to ensuring that poaching is appropriately punished. In order to achieve this, supplier countries, intermediaries and target countries would have to coordinate more closely. But the road to common agreements is long and complicated. For Crostas, the measures do not go far enough. Revising the legal situation is not enough, he says. Rather, the entire ivory industry should be banned. He urges China, as the main importer of illegally traded tusks, to do the right thing. "The President of China could just say that this is a small industry that few, criminal people, get rich with. So we're phasing that out," he said. "He has that power."