Status value: seized ivory.

Elephant, rhino poaching soars

Elephant poaching appears to have skyrocketed since rebels took over the Central African Republic a month ago, and the status of rhinos in Africa is also worsening.

Demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia has reportedly more than doubled in the past six years and estimates put its value at $17-$20 billion annually.

As a result, underworld syndicates have become increasingly sophisticated in their methods of sourcing ivory and horn, while rebel armies in Africa have been able to fund their wars by slaughtering the animals.

Sudanese rebels in particular are venturing further into other African nations and are now believed to be poaching forest-dwelling elephants, which are more difficult to track than savanna-living ones but also less protested by rangers.

Reports say elephant meat is now widely available in the markets of the Central African Republic, and rebels are believed to be killing large numbers of elephants in the previously protected Dznga-Sangha reserve, home to about 3400 pachyderms.

However, Mozambique, which has not seen a civil war for 20 years, is also facing a decline in elephant numbers due to criminal poaching.

Somalian bands are apparently behind most of the poaching, but they are easily able to enlist locals, who are paid attractive sums.

The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that at the current rate of poaching the nation will have no elephants left in eight years.

Rangers there, like in many African nations, cannot effectively tackle poachers who are often armed with much more modern firepower and have sophisticated equipment that under-funded rangers cannot match.

The United Nations has called for tougher penalties against poachers, but seems reluctant to take significant steps to help curb the problem.

In South Africa yesterday, the toll on rhinos was one short of 250 this year, and 2013 is on track to be yet another all-time high for the killings.

Ivory has become a high-status gift in China and Southeast Asian countries, while rhino horn not only is a status symbol when turned into wine but is taken as an aphrodisiac, hangover cure and cancer fighter, despite the fact it is the same material as fingernails.

There have been calls in South Africa to have the poaching problem declared a national disaster, while there are also demands to re-open discussions about legalising the trade in rhino horn.

Proponents of the trade say that horns re-grow on live animals, and that a regulated industry could end, or at least serious reduce, the demand for poached horns.

They also point out that current anti-poaching thinking is failing.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.