Poachers Chase Prey to Brink of Extinction

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Photo: Reuters/Patrick Olum

But chances are climate change will be too slow to kill off the earth's remaining rhinos, tigers, and elephants.

Human demand for animal products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn will have already driven these rare beasts to extinction.

Behind the devastation is a single, clandestine group of entrepreneurs that does the killing: poachers. Strong laws and stiff penalties generally protect rhinos, tigers and elephants, but the measures are far from effective.

With affluence growing in some Asian countries, where rhino horn and tiger products are prized ingredients in everything from good-luck amulets to virility medicines, the market for poached parts has expanded. 

Both tigers and elephants did, however, catch a break this week. The U.N. Conference on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) closed out its most recent summit by voting down a proposal to allow a one-time sale of Tanzania and Zambia’s ivory stockpiles and approving a deal for better international intelligence sharing on tiger product trafficking. 

But poaching is a pervasive and intractable problem. The global recession has caused a rise in illegal commercial hunting all over the world, from California to Arizona to Ireland, involving everything from bears to lobsters.

For these three species, the increase could lead to an early demise.

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Photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Elephants

The debate over elephant poaching is complicated. In many areas of Africa, after decades of decline that saw the African elephant population fall from millions of individuals to perhaps 500,000, herds have actually increased in recent years, as this recent article in The Washington Post explains.

That rise, along with a resurgence in the price of ivory, has fueled a spike in poaching that threatens a number of regional populations of elephants, according to this absorbing piece from The Telegraph. Long a coveted material in black markets worldwide, ivory—like products from all three big animals—now overwhelmingly ends up in Asian markets, especially China.

To learn more, visit Save the Elephants

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Photo: Reuters/Radu Sigheti

Rhinos

Rhinos are under imminent threat of extinction specifically because of poaching. As shown in this piece from The Los Angeles Times, rhino numbers are steadily falling.

Poachers shoot highly endangered black rhinos and cut off their horns, sending them most frequently to Asian markets. In southern Africa, only a couple thousand of the black rhinos remain, as poaching has hit a 15-year high.

Elsewhere, two other species are even closer to the brink. The Sumatran rhino has only about 200 individuals left in the world, while the Javan rhino is down to fewer than 60 individuals, and is so bad off every known pregnancy is closely watched.

Visit The International Rhino Foundation for more information. 

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Photo: Reuters/Rick Wilking

Tigers

For one of the world’s most iconic big cats, poaching and habitat destruction have gone hand in hand to create a critical situation. In a shocking figure unearthed in this New York Times article, experts say there are now more tigers held in captivity in Texas than there are in the wild globally. The wild tiger, it seems, may soon be a thing of the past.

With perhaps just 3,000 to 3,200 wild tigers left in the wild—a more than 97 percent drop from 100 years ago—the species has nearly reached a point-of-no-return in its natural habitat.  Just 20 years ago, the tiger's population was as high as 100,000, but poaching and habitat loss have taken a toll.

Again, Chinese and other East Asian countries are the main destinations of tiger products.

For ways to aid tiger preservation, visit Panthera

Now it's up to us to take advantage. 

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