Poaching, that is the illegal capturing of animals, is costing us millions in terms of our economy and our environment. In Africa alone, elephant poaching is costing the continent £25 million in tourism spending each year [1,2].
More worryingly, while we recognise the impacts of poaching and the benefits which eradicating it would be bring, statistics indicate that poaching for a large number of the targeted species is on the rise .
And the even sadder news is that there is quite a long list of animals poached around the globe:
This animal is poached 82 times more than rhinos and 1,000 times more than tigers, but very few of us can name it or recognise it. The pangolin comes from a distinct lineage of mammals dating back to when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it is the only mammal on Earth that is covered in scales.
Pangolins are nocturnal, solitary and shy. When attacked, they roll themselves into a ball and their sharp scales form a nearly impenetrable armour. A more endearing feature is how pangolins carry their offspring – pangopups – around: they are carried on their mother’s tail for the first three months of life. Once they start walking, they remain with her for another two years until they reach adulthood, at which point they start their own solitary lives .
Their expensive meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam while their scales are considered to have healing powers, despite no scientific evidence supporting that.
Poaching of elephants has been making the news a lot lately. Their ivory is the single biggest threat facing elephant populations; pound for pound, ivory is worth more than gold, silver, cocaine and oil.
International trade in ‘white gold’ was made illegal in 1989 but ivory is in such demand even today that about every three years, 100,000 elephants are poached for their tusks of which one in ten will die as a result of poaching .
It is hope that new legislation, particularly China’s recent ban on ivory, will start delivering some much needed results to help protect these majestic animals which are so important to their local environment.
Rhinos do not seem to be faring any better. In 2015, poachers killed more than 1,300 rhinos in Africa. Between 2007 and 2015 there has been a 90% increase in the rhino slaughter . Like elephants, they are poached for one reason alone: their horn.
Today, other species of rhino still face the same threat for the same reasons. The situation is so dire that armed guards are often allocated to protect baby rhinos and their nursing mothers in the past to protect them from any harm.
To redress the situation there needs to be a strict watch over game reserves in central and southern Africa and in areas where rhinos are naturally most common, portions of land are carefully marked and guarded so that the rhino have a safe haven.
The only glimmer of hope is offered by the case of Nepal, a country working to achieve zero rhino poaching by enforcing stricter poaching penalties. Their policy seems to be working as in the last three years, Nepal increased rhino population by 21% .
Tigers have been hunted for centuries by humans. In Chinese traditional medicine, different tiger body parts are considered extremely valuable – and despite the fact that there is no evidence backing those claims, there is still demand for those body parts. Indeed, demand has increased, leading to an increased number of tigers being poached.
It is also worth mentioning that a Tiger pelt is also considered a great trophy for any hunter.
This growth in numbers is however very fragile as for the moment and needs to be sustained with large scale conservation projects for which funds are currently limited.