His name is Baghdad, because of the bullet scar in his ear. He lives in a national park in Gabon, and he’s one of only 20 African forest elephants left on Earth whose tusks touch the ground, making him worth about a hundred thousand U.S. dollars—dead.
Delegates to the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea, this month, appealed for aid from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as African elephant populations plummet.
With international crime syndicates coveting more and more elephant ivory—a symbol of wealth in booming Asia—elephant numbers have fallen to “crisis levels,” according to a June report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The highest rate of elephant poaching since a global ivory ban in 1989 occurred in 2011, with tens of thousands of the animals slaughtered, their ivory shuttled out of West and, increasingly, East African seaports enroute mainly to China but also to other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand.
About 472,000 to 690,000 African elephants—currently classified as vulnerable by IUCN—likely roam the continent today, down from possibly five million in the 1930s and 1940s.
African countries are in desperate need of increase protection of their wildlife, particularly elephants and rhinoceroses, as dozens of park rangers have been killed this year in Africa by well-armed poachers, including 15 in the Kenya Wildlife Service alone.
One African delegate said, “We’re going into a phase now where we’re basically at war. We’re shifting from biologists being out in these parks to military people being out there.”
Worldwide, more than 60 rangers have died this year. There are many dead who go unreported. Rangers need more funding, training, and equipment—particularly as wildlife crime tightens its grip on Africa.
The World Wildlife Fund recently launched a campaign to stop wildlife crime. One of its main goals is raising the profile of rangers, since many don’t receive the support and training they need.
Gabon, a country that’s taken a strong stance against the ivory trade, recently upped its national park staff from 100 to 500 and is in the process of adding a new military branch of 250.
Even so, poachers have become more brazen, shooting at cars carrying park staff. Poachers are have even taken to killing elephants by putting out poison, which can harm other animals as well.
Source: Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic News, September 9, 2012.