Photo by Per Gunnar-Ostby
Photo by Per Gunnar-Ostby

According to the DC-based Stimson Center, ~60,000 African elephants and ~1,650 African rhinos [both species] were poached in 2012 and 2013. In just Kenya alone, the number of black rhinos fell from ~20,000 in the 1970s to ~650 today.

Poaching is a problemme of the poor in response to demand by the ignorant (or selfish) wealth. Yes, “subsistence poaching” remains a terrible problemme for the starving, but this social dilemma attacks poverty from a different angle. Regardless, the fundamental quandary that we are dealt with to solve is how to mitigate poverty. Yes, wildlife conservation is often more about people than about animals. If you can solve poverty in predominantly sub-Saharan Africa, giving everyone a job in which they are content with, providing individuals with an education, and establishing tremendous pride in their natural wealth, poaching will become a taboo. Until you establish poaching as a taboo, which cannot be articulated until the basic human needs are met, then poaching will go on.

The other option: stop the demand for the poached creatures. So let’s talk about this “demand”: the rising middle class of China.

(c) The Gabby Wild Foundation, Inc. 2014
(c) The Gabby Wild Foundation, Inc. 2014

Studies have correlated the increase in Chinese consumer spending, correlating with an increase in cash flow, to the rise in the ivory market. The finger has laid the blame upon China, and their efforts to curb this outrageous consumption has hardly been met. Destroying 6 tons of ivory this year is a pittance for what the government should be doing. Though not to sound ungrateful, it is, at least, a start.

This demanding population can now capitalize upon the disadvantaged force that is all too willing to meet China’s every request: the poor of Africa. These predominantly Sub-Saharan African people are living on less than USD$5,200.00/year (and often far less than this). Africa’s conservation efforts are not only complicated by the poverty of people within her, but also by the plague of disease, namely the curse of HIV that has left a rising orphan population, furthering the vicious cycle of poverty.

By Per Gunnar-Ostby
By Per Gunnar-Ostby

But in actuality, Africa is pregnant with natural resources! These include oil, cocoa, bauxite, copper, uranium, iron, gold, diamonds, and cobalt, to name just a few. Rarely, if ever, does the wealth of any of these countries ever meet the hands (or the mouths) of the people, leaving many pockets of the continent in abject poverty. Where there is abject poverty, you have people willing to do anything to support themselves and their families. You also find it extremely easy to convince people to join military organizations with the promise of a better future and a guaranteed meal each day. Here riseth criminal networks and terrorist organizations.

Wildlife trafficking, according to the Government Security News Magazine, channels $19 billion to criminal and terrorist organizations. Illegal wildlife trade must be combatted with a two-pronged approach: from the poachers (and perhaps in solving their social PROBLEM) and those that are funding them.

Fellow conservationist, Andrea Turkalo, had to flee for her life due to insurgencies. In 2013 armed rebels, known as Seleka, infiltrated the region after the toppling of the Central African Republic’s government fell. In addition to pillaging local people, the Seleka used automatic weapons to slaughter 26 elephants in Andrea’s area of observation, the Dzanga Bai, hacking out the elephants’ tusks and leaving rotting bodies behind.

Former assistant to Defense Secretaries Panetta and Hagel discussed in The New York Times the role of ivory by the Somali terrorist organization, Al Shabab. This group, made famous for their mall massacre in Nairobi, Kenya, allegedly receives half of their operating funds from the illegal sale of ivory.

Hence by other jihadist organizations, ivory has been labeled their “white gold”.

As noted by Gavin Shire, acting Deputy Chief of Communications at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Illegal wildlife trade, including ivory, which is often used to make traditional medicine and other products, is larger than the trafficking of small arms, diamonds, gold, and oil.” He further emphasizes that poaching can be a destabilizing factor for countries.

Those reading this blog are predominantly from developed nations. We have long abandoned the days in which we were peasants controlled by a lord, but do we forget the pain that these people at the hands of corrupt governments and insurgent terrorist groups are undergoing? What I say are not mere words from hippie-happy girl but rather come from the articulated failures of notable organizations meaning well and learning the hard way:

After an excellent study authored by Fiona Maisels and Samantha Strindberg, both scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), published in PLOS ONE (“Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa”) the world became illuminated that 65% of Central Africa’s elephants have been wiped out between 2002-2013. Other facts that didn’t make as big of a splash but that are equally as depressing include that 95% of the Democratic Republic of Congo is devoid of forest elephants, with an estimated total loss of 200,000 African forest elephants between 2002-2013.

An enormous travesty occurred in the Minkebe National Park (yes, supposed to be protected but where there is law, there must be enforcement of it). The park and its surrounding buffer zone in 2004 possessed 29,000 forest elephants, but by 2012 a startling meager number of only 7,000 was counted. USD$15 million was placed into the conservation of this national park over the years, mostly by the generosity of WWF and USAID, but what was not foreseen was that people who were overworked and underpaid lived nearby: a goldmine brought in 6,000 people, many of them seeking other ways to make a better income, including poaching at night. Once the gold mine was closed down and the people removed, the situation calmed.


Thus, with conservation: one must always consider the people affected and the repercussions the environment has upon them. Then you may be able to play your game of conservation chess with better odds at protecting the animals.

Thus, as I have hammered far too much, before we can adequately save these animals, we must address civilian distress and instill a greater notion of pride in their own land and its resources. WWF and local NGOs instill this sense of “pride” best and results are showing success bit by bit. We need a call to action from the United Nations. If we gave $1 to establish just governments in these crisis nations each time each person popped onto Facebook or Twitter, perhaps then we could find our solution?

If this took you 15 minutes to read, please know that an elephant was killed during that time. Three more will be killed this hour. 96 will be killed in total today.

Stay Wild,

Gabby Wild