by Jamison Maeda
Even experienced rangers were shocked at the horrific scene as the carcasses of 87 dead elephants were discovered in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. They had been poisoned and their tusks removed by poachers. And as hundreds of birds and other animals fed on the carcasses, soon they too would become victims of cyanide poisoning.
Every 15 minutes and elephant is killed by ivory poachers. That’s roughly 25,000 a year and those numbers are rising. The numbers for African rhinos are equally grim. Their horns are valued in Asia as cures for everything from hangovers to cancer though rhino horn is made of the same material as fingernails and has no medicinal effect whatsoever.
Though the focus has been on the poachers, the true villains are the warlords and terrorists who use illegal ivory to fund their crimes against humanity. Somalia’s al Shabaab as well as Sudan’s murderous janjaweed militia are funded by illegal ivory. And Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army who has kidnapped hundreds of children for sex trafficking and for use as child soldiers funds, his army with ivory money as well.
The weapons go to terrorists and the ivory goes to Asian nations like Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, and China. “China is at the epicenter of demand” says senior US State Department official, Robert Hormats. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.” Over 150 Chinese nationals have been arrested across the continent of Africa for trafficking in ivory. Illegal ivory is simply loaded onto Chinese fishing boats and sent off to sea.
Perhaps international strategy should change from chasing impoverished, African poachers to punishing the wealthy, Asian, ivory syndicates and their customers. If millions of dollars of foreign aid to countries like Vietnam and China were withheld maybe cracking down on the ivory trade would become a priority. The Prime Minister of Thailand has already pledged to ban ivory sales in Thailand so as not to lose monetary aid from overseas. Maybe if China and South Korea were forced to pay a 15% Cruelty Tax on all of their exports, poached ivory would have a harder time ending up as fancy chopsticks for wealthy people, and statues of the Buddha, who incidentally would in no way have approved of elephants being slaughtered and ivory being illegally trafficked to fund terrorism.