Lest we are led into complacency: Poachers won’t spare our wildlife

17Apr 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Lest we are led into complacency: Poachers won’t spare our wildlife

ONCE, it was elephants that were listed as belonging to an endangered species. Then it was reported that rhinos and cheetahs were also in for hell. Much later, we were warned that hippopotami were the new target for poachers largely owing to suggestions that their teeth were-

-excellent raw material for carved ornaments.

The same way many are baffled by what people do with elephant tusks, equally weird is just how hippo teeth can pass as ornaments worth buying with hard-earned cash. Indeed, wonders will never cease in the world of poaching.

Illegal trade in the so-called ornaments reportedly fetches lots dirty money in various parts of the world, sending armies of poachers into the wild to get the trophies at all costs.

According to a report entitled ‘Fighting the Underground Trade in Hippo Teeth’, poaching cartels operating in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa have recently turned to hippos, whose teeth are said to be carved into sought-after ornaments.

In response to the reports, the government said then that plans were under way to conduct the first countrywide census of the animals as a protective measure.

The government’s official position is that although Tanzania has a licensing system allowing hippo sport hunting and the sale of teeth collected from hippos dying a natural death, the formal issuance of permits for export of hippo teeth had been suspended since 2004.

Meanwhile, records of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) show that between 2004 and 2014 Hong Kong reported importing almost 60 tonnes of teeth from wild hippos from Africa for commercial purposes.

Trade figures showed that Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi were the major source countries. This bad news has burst before us even before the dust has settled on the celebratory mood brought about by a declaration by what used to be the world’s biggest ivory market – China – that it was to take steps at home that could save thousands of elephants in Africa.

A coalition of 15 African countries operating as the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) applauded China’s commitment to closing its domestic ivory markets.

The closure of China’s ivory market, the foremost destination for ivory from poached elephants, was widely viewed as the single most important step towards securing a future for elephants in their current range.

But concern by some governments and conservationists was not on the plight of elephants alone, as hippos and a host of other protected wild animals were in grave danger as well.

The message here is that poachers remain hell-bent on wreaking havoc our wildlife, which is our heritage and the heart of our economy chiefly through tourism, for their own gain and the twisted desires of their heartless customers.

When gains are made on one front, these merciless cartels inflict untold damage on the other – and they don’t show any signs of stopping at will. They have to be stopped, and this because there is every indication that they won’t spare anything in their pursuit of whatever they are pursuing.