Following Prince William’s passionate anti-poaching speech, we look at the disturbing facts behind the poaching spree.
A horn can change hands at £40,000 per kilogram (2.2lb), compared with £33,000 for a kilogram of gold Photo: ALAMY
By Charles Starmer-Smith and Brian Jackman
In the years before the Tusk Trust was established in 1990, poaching was so widespread that elephant populations in many parts of Africa were threatened with extinction. The ivory trade was banned in 1989 yet in the last year poaching levels have returned to those of the 1980s. Black-market prices have risen so high that rhino horn has become more valuable than gold. A horn can change hands at £40,000 per kilogram (2.2lb), compared with £33,000 for a kilogram of gold. With an average horn weighing 7kg and worth nearly half a million dollars, it is little wonder that poachers are willing to risk their lives.
According to the African Wildlife Fund, more than 900 rhinos have been poached across Africa over the past three years. Since the start of this year, 181 rhinos have been killed in South Africa, according to official figures. At Lewa, the Kenyan conservancy where Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton, a rhino was recently lost to poaching – despite the fact the reserve is protected by a 150-strong security force.
Africa’s rhino population today is estimated at 25,000, but if poaching continues at current rates there may be no rhino left in the wild by 2025.
Elephants, too, are being poached at an alarming rate. In February, the Kenya Wildlife Service announced that 278 had been poached last year. It plans to expand Kenya’s elephant population, restoring the animals to areas where they were exterminated in the 1980s. Earlier this week rangers in West Pokot, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, shot dead five suspected ivory poachers, recovering 50kg of elephant tusks. A national park in Cameroon recently lost some 450 elephants – almost its entire population.
Charlie Mayhew, co-founder of the Tusk Trust, says: “This is a battle that we cannot afford to lose. In addition to supporting efforts to protect the animals, we are seeking in collaboration with other conservation groups to address urgently the demand-end of the markets that drive this repulsive trade. We are urging governments in Africa and Asia to bolster their efforts to enforce laws and match the crime with a far greater punishment than many currently deliver.”
According to Traffic, a conservation group that monitors the global trade in animals and plants, a shipment of 128 ivory tusks bound for China was seized in the northern Mozambique port of Pemba last year. The price of raw ivory has risen sharply in the Far East. It is now reported to be worth more than £1,000 a kilogram – cheaper than rhino horn, but still lucrative enough to make poaching and smuggling a dangerous but worthwhile occupation.
Earlier this month, an emergency summit of politicians, wildlife groups, conservationists and NGOs was called in Nairobi to formulate a comprehensive, co-ordinated response to the poaching crisis. Measures were agreed to strengthen rhino surveillance and anti-poaching units and to improve co-ordination of law enforcement at national and regional levels. It was agreed to increase awareness of the issues and to seek to influence policy-makers, financiers and government officials.