An unsustainable four elephants are killed in Africa every hour for the ivory in their tusks. But while impoverished locals are enlisted to pull the triggers, it is highly organised transnational crime syndicates and militias that run the poaching and reap the lion’s share of the profits, fuelling terrorism and increasingly war.
That’s the conclusion of a joint report by the conservation group Born Free USA and C4ADS, a non-profit organization that conducts data-driven analysis of security and conflict issues.
In 2013, roughly 400 tonnes of ivory was trafficked, representing the tusks of 50,000 elephants – a billion dollar a year business. The price of ivory in China, which is by far the largest market, has sky-rocketed from $6 a kilo in 1976 to $3000 today – far more than most Africans earn in a year.
Elephants in east Africa are facing what Iain Douglas-Hamilton, zoologist and founder of Save the Elephants, calls “a crisis but not yet a catastrophe”. Elephants are “amazingly resilient creatures”, he says, and in regions where up to half of their deaths are caused by humans, the animals can still manage to maintain healthy communities. But when that number rises above 50 per cent – as has happened in much of Africa – reproduction rates can’t replace the losses, and the species spirals into decline.
Photo credit: ©Nick Brandt/Big Life Foundation in: Varun Vira and Thomas Ewing (2014). Ivory’s Course, The Militarization & Professionalization of Poaching in Africa.
Infographic: ©Nigel Hawtin (2014)