Horns a plenty.
Pachyderms had a bad year in 2011: Data indicate that poaching of African elephants and rhinos has risen steeply.
TRAFFIC, a conservation group that monitors wildlife trading, reports that last year saw a record-breaking number of large-scale ivory seizures. Authorities confiscated at least 13 ivory shipments of more than 800 kilograms, double the number of large-scale seizures in 2010. This represents the death of some 2,500 elephants.
The upswing in seizures indicates a growth in ivory trafficking, rather than a successful crackdown. Zimbabwe-based Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC's Elephant Trade Information System, says the poaching is a consequence of China's investment drive into Africa to secure the resources it needs to fuel its economic growth.
"We've reached a point in Africa's history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end-use market and now they are at the source in Africa," Milliken says. Most of the illegal African ivory winds up in China or Thailand, where it is used in jewelry and art carvings.
A 1989 global ban on the ivory trade helped stem the slaughter of African elephants, but poaching continues. "The trade data suggest that thousands of elephants are being killed a year. I think central Africa has been brutally affected, especially Democratic Republic of Congo," Milliken says. Poaching also occurs in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya.
The plight of the rhino is no better. In 2011, a record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone, up from 13 killings in 2003. Last year's killings also include 19 critically endangered black rhinos.
Poaching gangs have become increasingly sophisticated, using helicopters, tranquilizers, body armor, night-vision equipment, and mercenaries experienced in rhino tracking. There are rumors of collusion by some park rangers seeking to cash in.
Dr. Morne du Plessis, chief executive of World Wildlife Federation-South Africa, says: "Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia. It's not enough to bust the little guy. Investigators need to shut down the kingpins organizing these criminal operations."
Demand for rhino horn is high in East Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it is used as a supposed cure for cancer and is also sometimes taken as a post-partying cleanser. We can infer from the continued high demand for the horns that it does not cure overindulgence any better than it cures anything else.
--REUTERS 12/29; GUARDIAN 1/12