As usual, it all comes down to sex and death. Particularly when we’re talking rhino horns.
Fueled by an unfounded belief that a powdered tincture of rhino horn cured a Vietnamese politician of malignant cancer, the sickly well-to-do made a run on the wild animal market in 2012, resulting in perhaps the largest die-off of illegally slaughtered rhinos to date.
(Good news: Should the cancer not get you, rhino horn is also thought to be a handy aphrodisiac.)
Ivory’s nice, too. Taken together, the Independent UK reports that some 600 rhinos and at least 3,000 elephants were slaughtered last year alone for that which innocently sticks out of their heads.
According to the Independent, the problem skyrocketed with a revitalizing economy in 2012, buoying elephant ivory poaching along with it to slake the lust of newly wealthy entrepreneurs. Estimated to be a $19 billion dollar annual commodity, horn poaching is just fourth in international illicit trades, coming after human trafficking, drugs, and counterfeiting—not charming bedfellows.
But there may be some good news. A recent New York Times story outlines the tale of Julius Lokinyi, once one of “the most notorious” poachers in his Kenyan territory, and his eventual salvation in turning from hunter to protector as he realized that the elephants in his land were more valuable alive than dead.
In fact, the citizenry has been able to do what even the military has not: Stop themselves from poaching. With the safari business being one of the most meaningful aspects of the Kenyan economy—estimated to bring in a billion dollars a year and to provide a half a million jobs—Kenyans are coming to understand that their elephants (and rhinos) are worth more alive than dead. What’s more, the model is working.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is using the Kenyan “ranger squad” strategies to slow poaching in the Southern Sudan. Of course, the larger problem is keeping the humans from squabbling themselves to death, shooting each other rather than protecting wildlife. The Northern Rangelands Trust helps in part with that hurdle.
But overall, the feeling towards poachers these days in Kenya is summed up nicely by Wilderness Safaris’ executive Rob Moffett, who told the Independent that the sentiment now is: “An enemy of wildlife is an enemy of the people.”