|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
In a pattern repeated across the East Africa, between 1976 and 2014, Tanzania’s Selous National Park lost 88 per cent of its elephant population. From a population of more than 100,000 animals, there are now only a little over 10,000 left. Lost is a polite word; in actuality they were murdered.
The impacts of this extend far outside the park itself; ecology changes, tourism numbers drop off, and jobs are lost both directly and indirectly.
To make matters worse, the elephants were not a victim of governmental indifference, but of active collusion. An investigation found that key figures within several ministries were being paid to ensure that ivory could be safely and illegally shipped abroad.
Thankfully, the Tanzanian authorities have responded, and are making bullish noises about the populations expanding. Certainly that is possible; in Ruaha National Park the elephant population has risen from 10,000 to close to 14,000, thanks largely to the park’s extraordinary remoteness and dedicated rangers.
The idea that poachers be simply rounded up and imprisoned sounds relatively easy, but the reality is much more difficult. Poachers these days have access to helicopters, sniper rifles and even night-vision equipment. They have the resources to bribe almost anyone. More park rangers would help, but then Selous is twice the size of Switzerland.
The main problem is the herbal medicine trade in China, but massive amounts of ivory also end up as chop sticks, jewellery or ornaments. Rhino horn costs more per gram than cocaine, largely because of the fictional belief that it can be used to treat fever and impotence.
Although it is easy to blame all of this on China, western hunters also contribute to the destruction. Some 600 lions are shot each year in the name of sport, with 60 per cent of those kills being shipped to the US as trophies.
Although there is very little evidence that Finns are contributing to the loss of species in Africa, this is not an issue we can be complacent about. Unless dramatic action is taken, black rhino will be extinct within ten years, tigers within twenty, and we could lose lions and East African elephants within our lifetimes.
Perhaps the best way to make a difference is to go holiday. Spend a week on safari and you help save these animals in two ways; your park fees directly help fund rangers, and the money you spend on guides, food, hotels and buses helps foster the local tourism industry. The more people who work in tourism, the more pressure there is on poachers to leave it alone.
ThE first time I saw a baby elephant running across the Savannah I was moved almost to tears by how beautiful and funny and human it looked. But what hurts me more is the idea that my children may never get to see the same sight.
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