Rhino and elephant populations continue to plummet as black-market prices skyrocket for the animals’ horns and tusks. Weak enforcement and light penalties encourage smugglers to continue trafficking, which is pushing several large mammals to the precipice of extinction.
Rhino horn $45,000 MARKET PRICE PER POUND
African elephant population 1900
Black rhinoceros population 1960s
Legalize rhino horn?
More than 20,000 African elephants were killed in 2013. The elephant population in central Africa has likely fallen by 60 percent in the past 10 years.
Rhino horns can be safely harvested from farmed rhinos without killing the animals. Rhinos grow their horns back after trimming. Legalizing the trade of farmed rhino horn would add incentives to protect the animals, writes conservation economist Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes on his Web site rhino-economics.com. South Africa’s white rhino population has bounced back since the country legalized rhino products, farming and hunting.
Countries with ivory trafficking
Major countries along the illegal ivory trade route (2012-2013).
Most smuggling is by sea, through Malaysia and Vietnam.
Countries implicated in ivory trade (2000 and 2011) but less so recently.
Tracking illegal ivory
Sometimes using helicopters and automatic weapons, poachers slaughter elephants and hack off their tusks.
Traders accumulate ivory, which they sell to smugglers.
Smugglers bringing contraband to the United States prefer New York’s JFK International Airport because of its huge volume and overwhelmed inspectors.
Black rhinoceros 5,000 remain
White rhinoceros 20,400 remain 4 remain
Northern white rhinoceros
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
IVORY COAST NIGERIA
Asian elephant Less than 33,000 remain SUDAN
African elephant About 470,000 remain
Resurrection of a market
Sumatran rhinoceros 100 remain
Javan rhinoceros 44 remain VIETNAM
Following decades of a successful international ban on ivory trading, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, approved the export of more than 150 metric tons of government- stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zambia (1999 and 2008) and South Africa (2008). The flood of ivory revived demand in East Asia. Since then, poaching has escalated dramatically.
Indian rhinoceros 3,300 remain CHINA
Gordon’s store customers carried ivory across the country. African immigrants acted as traveling salesmen, selling Gordon’s ivory to buyers off-site.
According to U.S. court documents, investigators uncovered two ivory-trafficking operations running through JFK between 2006 and 2008, both of which involved Philadelphia art-store owner Victor Gordon , who paid smugglers about $8,000 per trip to carry ivory from Africa and deliver directly to him.
One sale was to an undercover officer at an Econo Lodge in Richmond.
Victor Gordon’s art store 31 N. Third St., Philadelphia.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has funding to support only 6 inspectors and 4 police agents at JFK for monitoring 1.3 million tons of cargo a year, which passes through 4 million square feet of office and warehouse space — roughly equivalent to a building one-third of a mile long by one-third of a mile wide.
Air cargo container
Large ivory shipments through JFK One shipment appraised at $165,000. Smugglers were paid as much as $20,000 for a large shipment. • March 2006 , from Ivory Coast: 39 large ivory pieces. • November 2007 , from Cameroon: More than 600 pounds of ivory tusks, bracelets, etc. • March 2008 , from Uganda: More than 1,500 pounds of ivory statues.
Semi-trailer truck for scale.
SOURCE: International Union for the Conservation of Nature. International Rhino Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Humane Society International, Airports Council International, staff reports.