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Elephants, rhinos and tigers butchered - The end of the world is night?
by: Wild Life Extra

In the last few days, we have received reports that poachers have killed 17 elephants in the Virunga National Park in the Congo, at least 6 tigers in Nepal's Chitwan National Park and 6 rhinos in northern India and Nepal. Additionally a Greenpeace ship has confronted an Italian trawler illegally fishing with 10 kilometres of driftnets and an investigation in a market in Thailand discovered highly endangered species of tortoises and turtles openly being sold.

The psyche of treating wildlife as a commodity is by no means new, but as the world population grows by some 250,000 people PER DAY, and the general wealth of the world expands rapidly too, the pressure on land and the environment will become untenable. The poaching I mentioned above are just a few small, but iconic, incidents that have all happened recently, but they are a symptom of a greater malaise. We have now reached the point where we can no longer just treat wildlife as a commodity, or in fact, ignore it altogether.

How to stop the poachers.

If you are a poor villager in India with 10 children to feed, and someone offers you a year's wages to help kill a tiger or rhino, it is not a hard choice. There will always be an impoverished few locals who, understandably, are prepared to take the risk of being caught. The odd middle man gets caught too, but the big criminals, often international organised crime gangs, rarely get caught or punished. And to be realistic, if they do get caught, another will step into replace them. If there is demand, there will always be a crime gang happy to fulfil that demand, and a few impoverished villagers willing to take the risk.

Iconic species poaching

The world's population continues to soar, each person's consumption increases and demand for raw materials, food, water, energy and land rises exponentially, and the rich get richer, the number of unscrupulous wealthy people is increasing too. While this is the case, demand for ivory, tiger bone and rhino horn will increase, at the same time that supply is shrinking. The first, and only, rule of economics is that increase demand and reduced supply has the effect of increasing the price. And as the price for these products soars driven by the twin devils of supply and demand, so will the incidents of poaching of "Iconic Species".

Traditionally, the way to attack this kind of poaching is to stifle demand. Realistically, it isn't going to happen soon, if ever. The least successful way to stop this poaching is to try to stamp it out locally, but there will always be that impoverished villager. I would love to be able to pretend that tourism has an answer, providing an income from the wildlife, but in the short to medium term, a tiger is worth a lot more dead than alive to an individual poacher.

Thus the only possible short term solution to the problem is, sadly, armed guards 24 hours per day. And in some of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, that is not going to happen.

Ray of light - Case proven?

In the last month or so, as many as 14 tiger cubs have been seen in India's Ranthanbore National Park. According to Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), the secret of this success is better management and "A lot of protection." Authorities in Assam have just announced that they will upgrade the security in Kaziranga National park, the world's biggest sanctuary for Asian rhinos.

The bigger picture

Now we have established that some of our iconic species are doomed, except in heavily guarded habitats, what chance for the rest of the world? The recent study from Mauritius that shows how some rare trees and plants are now highly endangered as the animals and birds that used to distribute the seeds far and wide are themselves extinct. As greater and greater pressure builds on dwindling habitats and resources, more and more species are becoming extinct, or moving in that direction. I doubt that any one species will prove disastrous on its own, but at some stage, the infamous "tipping point" will be reached.


However much we, or any of the many voices and charities, lobby for change, it needs to be those people who can actually make and govern the necessary changes to make any real difference. That someone needs to be a major world leader, or in fact several. Unless someone, somewhere takes responsibility, sometime in the next 200 years Malthus will once again be proved right, but in a bigger way than ever before. But maybe that is just how the world is meant to run.

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