The pandemic has brought many issues to the forefront on a global scale, from going into fight or flight mode with panic buying to helping build a community again after years of detachment from our neighbours. But one issue that may have escaped our notice is poaching; specifically, in countries like Africa and Asia.
Reasons for poaching
The reasons are always financial. Animals have many uses and killing them for bushmeat or using their particular body parts to make marketable items are the most common factors encouraging poachers.
To add to this, lockdown has enabled poachers to run free and take advantage of the panic. Examples of popular poaching choices include wild cats of South America and the Rhinos of Africa. With attention turned to fighting Covid-19, local people have been able to hunt without the usual distractions from tourists and governments.
Most recently, poachers in Cambodia have been hunting giant ibises by giving them poison and deers are being killed in India. For many poachers however, this is not a exactly a choice but a means to survive. With wildlife reserves and parks standing empty, poverty and the sudden drop in tourism are key factors pushing individuals to poach.
Which animals are in danger?
Endangered animals have been the most at-risk group, with elephants commonly killed for their tusks to make ivory which is used in many different products from jewellery to medicines. It has been estimated that around 20,000 elephants die in Africa every year because of poaching gangs. The International Fund for Animal Welfare in Africa found that 55 Elephants are poached everyday — that’s one every half hour. Asian elephants aren’t doing any better. Their numbers have dropped with just 40,000-50,000 left in the wild despite conservation efforts. Last year, Singapore managed to find the largest amount of smuggled ivory from 300 African elephants, valued at £10.4 million, which came from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pangolins are also an endangered species, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at China’s wet markets which sell them as bushmeat. These strange-looking creatures are poached for their scales, which in traditional Chinese medicine are believed to cure illnesses and physical ailments.
It is vital the pangolins are protected. They are the only mammal to have scales covering their body to protect them from danger, and tend not to survive in captivity. Between 2000-2019, 850,000 of these species had been trafficked around the world.
Tigers are also critically endangered. Less than 4,000 are now left in the wild due to poaching and illegal tiger farms have arisen where they are kept in captivity for tourists.
Protection to prevent extinction
I interviewed Richard Prinsloo Curson, co-founder of The Noah’s Ark Foundation; a charity based in Africa that protects wildlife and endangered species. The Foundation follows three principles:
- Taking care of all the animals in the ark, even if they aren’t endangered.
- It’s all about the social element. Humans must first develop ways to respect each other so we can understand how to care for other species.
- The charity intends to build a state-of-the-art animal and ecological conservation park covering 100 square kilometres on the North-East coast of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
The project is estimated to cost £5 billion and hopes to offer employment opportunities to local people so that they no longer have to take part in illegal activities to sustain themselves. The Ark will be made of geodomes with the right climates in place for all animals and will be half a kilometre high — replicating the Amazon rainforest and Antarctica using the latest in modern technology. The Antarctica dome will copy necessary weather patterns, including wind and snow, and is to be controlled by smart glass. The Rainforest dome will likewise create an environment that will sustain and nurture all animals.
The project is expected to last between 5 and 10 years with help from the Natural History Museum who will provide holographic photos. The Ark hopes to be able to host big conferences and meetings to attract other governments and countries. However, this is not to be a mere tourist attraction but a genuine conservational expanse where animals can be at peace and out of man-made danger. Educational trips will certainly be allowed to encourage young people’s involvement in the natural world and the circle of life.
Curson strongly emphasises people’s ability to change things and argues that we should not just reply on governments to ‘fix everything’. We all need to do our part. This can be through recycling and eating less meat — common choices raised by people in the past. Though for communities in developing countries it can be tough, especially when food is scarce and job security remains the priority.
Saving the animal kingdom can be a very tense and emotional issue for many. The protection of these vulnerable creatures and their environment is also about our own survival. Curson’s final message is that we are all Noah and have a part to play. He welcomes all volunteers, young or old, to make a contribution.