Ask most young kids what their favorite animal at the zoo is, and chances are they’re going to name some exotic animal like the elephant, the chimpanzee, or the lion. But what would happen if zoos were the only place left that these creatures could live? Some conservationists say that this reality is not too far off at the current rate we’re going.
Unprecedented levels of poaching are taking place at this moment throughout Africa and Asia. Recently, poachers have been killing at a rate of more than 30,000 wild African elephants per year for their expensive ivory tusks. That’s 10% of the elephant population in Africa killed every year. Do the math: it won’t be long until no more elephants are left in the wild. The black rhino is also targeted by poachers for their giant ivory horn. In fact, a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western Black rhino officially extinct and that its relatives—the Northern White and Javan Rhino—aren’t too far behind if nothing is done to stop the onslaught.
Poaching has been happening since the dawn of regulation and the emergence of the black market. But recently, ivory has become all the rage in Asia—among other markets—and the price has skyrocketed. Back in 2004, a pound of ivory went for $200. Now, a pound goes for $2,000. And it’s the animals who are paying the ultimate price and at an alarming pace.
Poachers use weapons such as guns, machetes, and cyanide poison to kill elephants and rhinos en masse. And governments haven’t been able to do a whole lot to stop these smuggling rings as it’s often violent rebel groups (or even corrupt government officials) who use profits from the ivory to fund their violent wars. The United States isn’t immune from blame in this issue, either: currently, the U.S. is the 2nd largest destination for illegal animal products.
Even worse, the story of the elephants and rhinos in the eastern African plains is just a microcosm of the realities animal are facing around the world. Numbers are being threatened everywhere due to poaching, deforestation, and other bi-products of human development.
In the jungles of Indonesia, the Sumatran Tiger faces rapid extinction as its natural habitat is eaten up by giant plantations that grow palm oil, a product found in just about anything from processed foods to shampoo and conditioner. Tigers are also being killed increasingly for their coats because, you know, nothing goes better with some ivory candlestick holders than a nice tiger-fur rug.
Panda bears—even though they have virtually no natural enemies—are facing some daunting statistics, too. Less than 2,000 remain in the wild, and their mating and eating habits are severely disrupted as more roads and train tracks cut through the bamboo forests they need to survive.
And lions? Their numbers have dropped more than 75% in the last twenty years as human developments encroach on their territories and demand increases for their teeth, claws, and bones.
It sounds depressing… and it is. There are possible solutions to this problem—such as increased regulation and more severe punishments for poachers—but the ultimate solution lies in the hands of the consumer and their demands.