Outside Africa it is not well known that the fight to protect these animals has been a bloody, low-level war pitting lightly armed wildlife officers against heavily armed poachers. In this battle, a terrible toll has been paid by those who safeguard these animals. Poachers have murdered hundreds of game rangers in the last few years.
What can be done to stop the carnage?
Although enforcement efforts have improved, game rangers need better weaponry, drones to monitor large reserves, helicopters for rapid reaction capabilities, and night-vision goggles to give them a fighting chance against these well-armed poachers.
However, the best opportunity to stop the killing lies in collapsing demand for ivory and rhino horn in China and Vietnam, countries that are the consumer epicenter for these products. Without doing this, no matter how much is done to enhance anti-poaching activities, the financial incentive to kill these animals is just too great. Ivory is worth more than $1,000 per pound and rhino horn is more valuable than gold.
Alarmingly, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund’s TRAFFIC, which are devoted to stopping the illegal trade in wildlife products, have shown that a significant number of China’s burgeoning middle class of more than 230 million people have expressed a desire to purchase ivory. This is as much for personal pleasure as it is a demonstration of wealth.
Buying rhino horn has also become a status symbol. In Vietnam in particular, the rich buy it supposedly to ward off hangovers but mostly to show off their affluence. Others purchase it because they heard that an unnamed Vietnamese politician consumed rhino horn and was cured of an unnamed cancer. This is a cruel urban myth as rhino horn is made of keratin, the same substance as fingernails, and has absolutely no medicinal power.