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African biodiversity in danger as policymakers scramble to combat wildlife trafficking

African elephant. These species, if not conserved and protected, can go extinct by 2020, according to conservationist groups. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Africa is home to an ecological environment where humans and animals first thrived. The region is very rich in biodiversity, with at least a quarter of the world’s species living in Africa. It is also home to 8 out of world’s 34 ecological hotspots, making it one of the greatest continents on earth for mammals and other animals to roam around freely, without incurring the risk of being killed or hunted. Around a quarter of the world’s mammals, a fifth of world’s bird species, and at least 2,000 species of fishes live in the said continent.

However, the case seems to be different recently, as some African leaders and bureaucrats have failed to address one of the biggest problems in ecology: wildlife trafficking. Most mammals and animals are struggling to survive recently due to more intense trafficking done by other countries. Wildlife trade involves the commerce in which most products, derived from non-domesticated, exotic animals and plants, are being sold worldwide. Usually, these are under threatened conditions, that's why the United Nations established the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). However, illegal trade remains to exist, in which near-extinct animals are being killed for their parts, mostly for black markets. For example, rhinoceroses are under constant threat in Mozambique, while African Elephants, originating from South Africa, are being killed for ivory.

 

The biggest driver of wildlife trafficking in Africa stems from the fact that black markets in poaching, mainly in Asia, is on the rise. The hunt for ivory and rhino horn has been steadily increasing over the years, making the black market a $10 billion industry, almost eclipsing the gains in the world’s illegal drug trade. This stems from different uses of ivory and rhino horn in different countries. In a report by The Atlantic, it has been known that rhino horns, for example, cost up to $300,000, primarily due to Vietnamese beliefs that rhino horns possess medicinal and health powers, curing people of their diseases, even cancer. While this claim remains to be refuted, people are willing to take risks, no matter how threatening this looks on Africa.

 

This problem in poaching seems to be much larger, if we’re going to take the number of populations per endangered species: For example, rhino poaching cases in South Africa increased dramatically, from a measly 13 in 2007 to a whopping 1,004 in 2013, threatening the possibility of getting some species endangered, and reversing conservation practices done in the past. More than 100 elephants each day are being killed by poachers, making it declined by 111,000 in 2016, according to the African Elephant Status Report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

 

If the constant rate of poaching in South Africa continues, the future for elephant population is in trouble. In 2008, a group of conservationists has warned that if the poaching economy continues to kill elephants at an unprecedented rate, these species might go extinct by 2020, or at least two years from now. This seems to be a dangerous scenario, considering the power of elephants have in our ecosystem. African elephants are consistently being threatened due to poaching, but their role in the ecosystem is very dynamic: They help in digging for water, improving vegetations, as well as improving soil conditions. These attributes helped the African elephant gain its status as a keystone species, meaning that they have a very important role in the ecosystem, and they should be protected at all costs. The worrying number of cases related to poaching in African countries such as South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia has alarmed conservationists and policymakers alike in what can they do to preserve the world’s biggest biodiversity.

 

Though it sounds unlikely, policymaking and bureaucracy in African countries can improve the conditions of these endangered species, concerning mainly on poaching and hunting for their body parts. While most African countries have stepped up in order to combat the problem of poaching, the measures seem to be weak enough, as cases have been steadily increasing since 2007. Countries are doing a better job in improving the welfare of these endangered animals: For example, Malawi strengthened its Wildlife and National Parks Act to combat the glaring cases of poaching in the country, while other countries such as Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia have created parliamentary caucuses to focus on problems that pertain to this disgusting practice that’s killing African biodiversity.

 

While it sounds impossible to do something directly, citizens can also engage and help in the preservation of these dynamic species that are constantly being threatened by the dangers of illegal trade. For example, people can start rejecting items and materials that contain animal parts of those who are endangered, such as ivory for elephants and horn for rhinos. In this way, the demand for these materials will substantially lower, making it increasingly difficult for poachers to find a way to sell them. However, the most powerful tool that people can use in the fight to biodiversity and conservation is passing the information and knowledge around, making people aware of the challenges African nations are facing with regards to biodiversity, and helping organizations in this campaign against poaching and hunting.

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