By Mike Rooney, Direct Marketing Associate at the African Wildlife Foundation, an EarthShare member charity
Today it’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about the poaching crisis. With fewer than 5,000,000 elephants and 25,000 rhinos remaining on the African continent, what was once a minor story has now become a crisis. The modern poachers are smarter and more ruthless, using tools like night vision goggles and automatic rifles, in order to meet the rapidly expanding ivory and horn markets in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
With so many diverse players involved across multiple countries, how does one successfully put an end to this illegal trade before it drives Africa’s wildlife past the brink of extinction?
The African Wildlife Foundation, in coordination with governments, fellow non-profits, local communities, and various other organizations, has gone about dismantling the poaching trade through a multiple front approach, with particular emphasis on strengthening ground support, community outreach, and increased education in demand market areas.
Strengthening the Front Lines
Thanks to better-equipped poachers, park rangers have now become the front line of AWF’s anti-poaching efforts. For many of these men and women, protecting wildlife has literally become a matter of life and death. In order to help rangers better protect themselves, AWF recently sent 62 individuals from the Samburu landscape to paramilitary and ecological training at the Kenya Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Academy this past year. After three months of grueling, physically taxing training, these rangers graduated with the necessary skills and knowledge to protect and manage wildlife, implement anti-poaching efforts, plan patrols, and more.
Bolstering the Community
Stopping poachers is impractical without support from the local communities in countries where these animals are hunted, such as Kenya and Tanzania. The potential monetary gains from harvesting ivory or horn are enormous and tempting for some individuals, even if they are at the bottom of the demand chain. Viable alternatives to poaching need to be provided, with education being the strongest option for those in need.
“With rhino poaching having reached crisis levels, especially in Southern Africa, it’s important to encourage communities to take ownership of protecting their wildlife,” says Kathleen Fitzgerald, Vice President of Conservation Strategies of AWF.
A focus on education led to the launch of the AWF Conservation Schools (ACS). In exchange for a community’s agreement to certain conservation actions, AWF will build or rebuild 15 new primary schools in rural African communities over the next 10 years. AWF has already replaced two crumbling schools with new facilities in northern Tanzania and Zambia, and currently has a brand new school under construction by locals in Ilima, Democratic Republic of Congo, with partner MASS Design Group’s oversight.
Disabling the Market
The black market demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn has rapidly risen due to a steadily increasing middle class in China and Vietnam. With this in mind, AWF partnered with WildAid and Save the Elephants to launch a multimedia awareness campaign in Asia, featuring popular Asian celebrities such as former NBA player Yao Ming, Chinese martial arts actor Jackie Chan, Chinese actress Li Bing Bing, and many more. Through radio ads, PSA’s on TV and the internet, and billboards in high traffic areas, these celebs are using their star power and influence to educate Asian populations about how their demand for ivory and horn is killing innocent wildlife.
"Rhino poaching is taking place on African soil, but the crisis doesn't end in Africa," said Patrick Bergin, CEO of AWF. "While real efforts are being made on the ground to halt the poaching, we also need to reach out to those who buy the horn and show them the damaging effects of their actions.”
Turning the Tide
The rally against the poaching trade has gained significant support in the past year, with actions ranging from ivory crushes in the US, China, Chad, Kenya, France, and, most recently, Belgium, to Chinese Arts and Crafts, Hong Kong’s largest ivory retailer, announcing a stop sale of these items. Additionally, President Obama created a task force, one which AWF’s CEO Dr. Patrick Bergin serves on, dedicated to working with government organizations in ensuring the items aren’t traded on US soil. The US Government also announced a ban on the commercial ivory trade, and many states are following suit with their own ban legislation.
However, the movement against the illegal wildlife trade is far from over. Only through further education and legislation, community outreach and ranger training, can these precious living resources be saved.
Read more about modern poaching's toll at African Widlife Foundation.