In the early 1970s, demand for ivory soared and the amount of ivory leaving Africa rose to levels not seen since the start of the century. Most of the ivory leaving Africa was taken illegally and over 80% of all the raw ivory traded came from poached elephants. This illegal trade was largely responsible for dramatic decline to the African elephant population. In the 1980s, where up to 80% of herds were lost in some regions.
In 1989, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) banned the international trade in ivory to combat this massive illegal trade. As the ban came into force in 1990, some of the major ivory markets were eliminated. As a result, some countries in Africa experienced a steep decline in poaching, especially where elephants were adequately protected and this allowed some elephant populations to recover.
However, poaching has been on the rise again over the last six years and the thriving but monitored domestic ivory markets continue in a number of countries, some of which have few elephants of their own remaining. Continuing poaching pressure for bush meat as well as ivory, have kept the illegal killing of elephants widespread in Africa and currently a rate of 96 Elephants are being poached every day!
If you have never even heard of pangolins, much less pangolin poaching, you are not alone. Even conservationists tend not to know much about these nocturnal, shy, armor-plated animals that are commonly known as scaly anteaters, because of its scaly body and preferred diet, ants.
The headlines tend to focus on bigger and seemingly more immediate problems, notably the slaughter of elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns. But almost unnoticed, the illegal trade in pangolins has raged out of control, to meet demands in East Asia for both their meat and their scales, which are roasted and used, like rhino horn, in traditional medicines. Demand has increased in recent years and the illegal trade also grows in Africa, despite the protection provided by national and international laws to all eight species.
Over 20,000 pangolins are poached or sold live on the black market every year. Captive breeding of any of the eight pangolin species has proven extraordinarily difficult. Moreover, captive breeding wouldn’t solve the problem: Pangolins in the wild produce only one offspring per year, not nearly enough to replace the population being lost to poachers and if that wasn't horrific enough, presenting a pangolin foetus for dinner is regarded as a particularly impressive status symbol in China. The bottom line is that if a pangolin species goes extinct in the wild, it will be gone forever.
The lion is the latest species swept up in the illegal wildlife trade for the Asian 'medicinal' market. As wild tiger populations dwindle, poachers are turning to lions to feed the insatiable appetite for ‘potions’ made from cat bones and sold as Chinese “remedies”. Lion bones are virtually indistinguishable from tiger bones, and bones from wild lions are considered more efficacious than those bred in captivity.
The lion is running out of time. The extent to which poaching of lions occurs is difficult to estimate, since poached lion carcasses are much smaller than those of elephants and rhinos making their detection more difficult. Even when found, lion remains are likely to be seen as natural mortality and any subsequent carcass destruction caused by scavengers, but there numbers in the wild are dropping.
With authorities concentrating on illegal ivory and rhino horn shipments, lion bones could be smuggled out of the country undetected.
Rhino poaching has escalated dramatically in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and China, due to its use as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth and in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Although there is no scientific proof of its medicinal value, rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, It is ground into a fine powder or manufactured into tablets as a treatment for a variety of illnesses such as nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions, and fevers.
Rhinos were once abundant throughout Africa and Asia with an approximated worldwide population of 500 000 in the early twentieth century. Despite intensive conservation efforts, poaching of this iconic species has dramatically increasing, pushing the remaining rhinos closer and closer towards extinction. South Africa is home to the majority of rhinos left in the world and is being heavily targeted by poachers. Rhino poaching has now reached a crisis point, and if the killing continues at the same rate, we could see rhino deaths overtaking births in 2016-2018, meaning rhinos will go extinct in the very near future.
The Western black rhino was already declared extinct by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) in 2011, with the primary cause identified as poaching. All five remaining rhino’s species are listed on the IUCN Redlist species, with three out of five species classified as critically endangered.