For millions of years, elephants evolved impressive tusks to use for defense, and as a tool to help get food and water. Those that grew the biggest tusks had an advantage over those that didn't. Unfortunately, the thing that they used to get ahead in their natural environments for millennia is making them a target for the biggest threat their species has ever faced: man.
Elephants are being targeted by poachers for their ivory tusks, which are used to make decorations. Unfortunately, the demand for the tusks is so high, these animals are being driven to extinction. Elephants aren't alone. Rhino horns are believed to hold special powers in certain superstitious Asian folk medicines (that have absolutely no scientific basis), as are other obscure animal parts such as tiger whiskers and the bile from bear gall bladders.
President Obama has reaffirmed his stance against this illegal and immoral practice by providing millions of dollars in aid to the African countries that are home to many of these targeted animals to help preserve their populations. As the New York Times reports, the United States represents a significant part of the market for these illegal products.
One of the biggest problems in combatting poaching is that the payout for these wildlife crimes is tremendous and there haven't been any real consequences for those that get caught, though is changing. Zimbabwe fines poachers, but the penalty is significantly less than the amount they'd receive for the illegal animal products. South Africa made international headlines when a poacher received a 77-year prison sentence for killing three rhinos in addition to the murder of his partner, who was killed by rangers during the arrest. The U.S. is providing money to help train the police and court systems that prosecute these cases.
Because wildlife crime is so lucrative, the poachers are also better equipped to get to the animals than the rangers are to stop them. Government agencies don't have the funds to provide their rangers with the most basic necessities such as proper boots while patroling incredibly large areas of land. Some money from the U.S. will be used to purchase these supplies, making it easier for the rangers to do their jobs and protect these incredible animals.
While the contributions from the U.S. might not be enough to solve the poaching crisis altogether, it helps send the message that this problem affects the entire world and will take all of us standing united in order to fight it.
(H/T: New York Times)
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