The last remaining male Northern White rhinoceros has died in Kenya. He left behind only a daughter and a granddaughter. When these females pass away, this sub-species dies with them. But why has it come to this? How is the ivory trade to blame?
March 19, 2018 was a sad day at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. For nine years, 45-year-old Sudan, the last remaining male Northern White rhino had lived here under armed guard to protect him from poachers.
With him, went the future of a entire sub-species. Although his daughter and granddaughter have previously mated with other male rhinos, they have not had any successful pregnancies.
Now, the only hope for the Northern White rhino is if scientists can find a way to harvest eggs or perform stem cell procedures to keep the species alive. Only time will tell.
Why has this happened?
Sudan was one of the lucky ones. He lived to a relatively elderly age and died of health complications. Many others around the world are not so lucky.
The demand for rhino horns and elephant tusks is huge because of the white fingernail-like material, ivory, found in them. Unfortunately, to get to their horns and tusks, poachers must, somehow, get close to the animal. Sedation is one way, but more often than not, a rhino or elephant is attacked for their ivory. More often that not, they will not survive.
It is estimated that three rhinos a day die from poaching, while one African elephant is killed by poachers every 26 minutes. Just let that sink in. In the time it’s taken me to fully research this article, 14 African elephants have died.
Currently, there are thought to be 20,000 White rhinos and just 5,000 Black rhinos in the world. Both are labelled ‘critically endangered’. The numbers of African elephants are estimated to be 415,00 and ‘vulnerable’.
Why are rhino horn and elephant tusk in demand?
In some cultures, ivory is seen as a precious commodity and a sign of wealth and success. Despite this, the international trade of ivory was initially banned in 1990. Domestic trades continued to flourish, and the illegal ivory trade became more prominent.
China is known as the world’s biggest trader in ivory. In fact, investigations show 70% of the world’s ivory is shipped to China. It is often used in jewellery, traditional carved ornaments and in herbal medicines.The country had already banned sales of ivory acquired after 1975. However, at the end of 2017, China implemented a full ban on the ivory trade. The legislation came about after surveys were taken in the countries three biggest cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Impressively, a whopping 95% of people surveyed wanted the government to ban the ivory trade to protect African elephants.
Sadly, as our rhino and elephant numbers continue to dwindle, ivory will become more rare. And as a result, the value of the ivory market will go up.
What are our governments doing?
Surprisingly, the only related UK policy prohibits the sale of ivory made after 1947. To this day, the WWF-UK has been calling on the government to impose a full ban. Recent investigations show our legal market is regularly being used as a cover for the illegal ivory trade. The current policy simply isn’t working.
Unfortunately, some world leaders are imposing laws that do the opposite of protecting our wildlife. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump lifted a ban on the import of African elephant body parts into the USA from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The ban was originally implemented under the Obama government. These now-legal imports include tusks and elephant heads from canned trophy hunting. This is a move that can encourage hunters from the U.S. to go to Zambia and Zimbabwe and kill elephants, knowing they can bring their prizes back into America.
Sadly, moves like this are actively pushing our wildlife towards extinction.
How does the illegal ivory trade work?
According to a report by The Economist, poachers are paid USD $80 – 100 per kilo of ivory. They are the people who go out into the plains and attack the rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks. They often put themselves in danger to approach these wild animals. Sometimes, rangers and environmental activists hired to protect the wildlife are murdered in the process.
But it earns the poachers big bucks – the kind of money they couldn’t even dream of in a local job. The money they earn will most likely go into feeding their family, housing and to keep their children safe and sheltered – in what is often a politically unstable country. Their reasons for poaching are often genuine, despite the act itself being morally wrong on many levels.
The ivory is then collected and shipped out from busy ports with the help of corrupt custom officers. Investigations show 70% of these packages are sent China. However, they are usually diverted through less strict borders such as South Korea. Again, corrupt freight agents are on-hand to collect the containers, and re-ship it out to China via Hong Kong with other routine packages.
Once in Shanghai, China, the shipments are cleared into the country and sent overland to Shuidong. The majority of the world’s illegal ivory is sent here. Here, they are collected and then sold on by local criminal gangs. By now, each kilo is worth USD $750. Nearly 10 times as much as the poachers were originally paid.
These gangs who hire the poachers are often linked to big criminal circuits. They oversee the whole process from paying the poachers to arranging the long-distance deliveries – and they can earn over USD $1.3 million for each shipment.
What can be done?
At the end of 2017, over 60,000 people signed a petition to the UK government asking for a full ban on the ivory trade. In a statement earlier this year, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, said,
“Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol and we are ready to take radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species.
“In 2018 the UK must be front and centre of global efforts to end this insidious trade.”
Hopefully, this means the UK will join China and fully ban the ivory trade. But is that enough?
Aside from making the ivory trade completely illegal, we need to look at education. This market is a selfish one, and does not factor in what it will mean to lose entire species. It is only when the world understands the value of what we will be losing through extinction, that we will see the demand for ivory fall.
If the world’s most powerful countries stand up to this despicable industry, then perhaps our rhinos and elephants have a chance of survival. But it is up to all of us to make a stand against the whole industry. Other animal products like bones, skin and fur are still often sold around the world as souvenirs. Be sure not to aid the market by buying anything that is made from animal products.
Find out more about WWF UK’s efforts to fight the illegal wildlife trade, including the ivory trade.
Learn more about trophy hunting.