Elephants across Africa are currently caught in the middle of a massive slaughter as demand for luxury ivory goods skyrockets in countries such as China.
In recent months, dozens of dead elephants have been found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, reports The New York Times. Often the meat from the elephants is left intact, but the tusks are stripped away, indicating that poachers are zeroing in on the valuable ivory.
Most of these shipments go to China—as much of 70 percent of the illegal ivory market—where elephant tusks are turned into ivory rings, chopsticks, cups and more.Conservation groups estimate that poachers are killing tens of thousands of elephants a year, the Times said, more than at any time in the last 20 years. Most of the illegal ivory seized in big shipments over the last few years comes from Kenya and Tanzania, according to a New York Times graphic.
As China’s middle class grows, more individuals can afford expensive ivory goods that they couldn’t before.
The price of ivory has grown to $1,000 per pound in the country, reported the Times. And 2011 was the biggest year on record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide, with almost 40 tons—about 4,000 dead elephants.
Militaries and armed groups across Africa are also part of the hunt, smuggling tusks across borders and selling them to pay for weaponry. Poachers will wrap ivory in tinfoil, use chili peppers to throw off sniffer dogs, or conceal the valuable material in avocados—just a few of the many methods used to smuggle ivory out of Africa.
More and more animals are disappearing across the continent: elephant and rhino populations are quickly dwindling, respectively hunted for tusks and rhino horn—many in Asia believe the latter to be a cure for cancer.
“China is the epicenter of demand,” said Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official, to The New York Times. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”
Interested in learning more? Read the first installment of The New York Times’ series “The Price of Ivory” here.
What do you think should be done to reduce Elephant poaching in Africa? Let us know in the comments.