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Africa Geographic Travel

Written by: Sara Mizzi

“When the buying stops, the killing can too.” With these few words, at a talk on illegal ivory trade in the Far East held at the Royal Geographical Society on Wednesday 8th October, Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, made his direct appeal to end illegal wildlife trade through reducing demand fuelling the illegal poachers who take the lives of thousands of rhinos and elephants every year.

“Today 82 elephants have died in Africa” said the spokeswoman who was introducing the talk. With such an alarming figure in just one day how can we possibly guarantee that future generations, including today’s children, will get the opportunity, as adults, to see these animals in the wild? The demand for ivory has mainly come from countries such as China and Vietnam: with the demand in China amounting to 70% of today’s global ivory.


Although the situation is desperate it is not hopeless and, in general, there is still time for us to prevent most of these animals from becoming extinct. Unfortunately it may already be too late for the northern white rhinos with only six still existing in the world.

The main problem with rhino horn trade is the unfounded belief in the Far Eastern societies that it can ‘cure’ cancer – a belief so deeply embedded there that it is increasingly harder and harder to shift people away from this notion and towards alternative and scientifically proven medicine which does not put wildlife in jeopardy. Furthermore, there is the pressing problem of Vietnamese consumption where the purchase of rhino horn is often considered a status symbol due to its exorbitant price and is added as an ingredient in drinks as well as used as a recreational drug where it is snorted like cocaine.

On the other hand, ivory is seen as a decorative ornament and religious artefact, which people desire to place on the mantelpiece of their homes. WildAid presented a rather effective advert showing a scene where a family that had purchased a beautiful, decorated ivory tusk places it in their living room. Shortly afterwards a dead, bloodied elephant comes crashing through the roof with the slogan – ‘You should get what you paid for.’ If people had to see what they were truly buying would they buy it at all?

Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
© Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Another horrifying image which was shown at the talk was an advert of a rhino that had his horns hacked off but was still clinging onto life. See the graphic video here. Sadly this is reality as poachers sometimes opt to tranquilise rhinos rather than shoot them so that they are not heard and caught. This then allows them to dissect their horns sometimes allowing the rhino to survive, slowly dying an agonising death hours or even days later. Sadly society is the trigger to this inhumane act as the demand for rhino horn has been on the rise as people’s wealth increases.

Manta rays have also become targets as Chinese now believe that by putting their gills in soup it will help cure children’s chicken pox.

Paul Hilton for WildAid
Paul Hilton for WildAid

And of course we cannot forget the pangolins which are now the most highly trafficked mammals in the world. Sadly these mammals might become extinct before they become known to the general public. We always hear about elephants and rhinos being threatened but rarely is there any coverage on pangolins. These cute, armour-plated creatures are being illegally trafficked to East Asia for both their meat and their scales, which are – like rhino horn and manta ray gills – used in traditional medicines. It is only because of such high demand that illegal poachers have been trafficking and slaughtering thousands of pangolins a year. ‘When the buying stops, the killing can too.’

Pangolin getting descaled © EW / TRAFFIC
Pangolin getting descaled © EW / TRAFFIC
Pangolin scales for sale © EW / TRAFFIC
Pangolin scales for sale © EW / TRAFFIC

Most readers seeing this appeal to end the senseless killing are not in the Far East. However if we all shout loud enough they may in fact hear us on the other side of the world! Today we are lucky enough to have the internet and social media to pass on the message making our voices heard and piling up the public pressure to stop the demand for ivory, rhino horns, manta ray gills, pangolin meat and scales (the list goes on).

We need to work together in order to stop illegal trade and save some of the world’s most beautiful creatures. Please help.

Stop the demand. Save the wildlife.

If you would like to make a donation to help put a stop to this demand please visit WildAid.

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