This article originally appeared on AndresManuelOlivaresMiranda.org on Oct. 26, 2017.
Poaching is currently the greatest threat to many African and Asian animals like elephants and tigers. Contrary to the stereotype of the lone hunter, poaching is usually carried out by criminal gangs who use night vision gear, silencers, tranquilizers, and even helicopters to give themselves advantages over both their targets and local game wardens or law enforcement personnel. The following are some of the most poached animals in the world.
Poaching is the most severe threat facing elephant populations, ahead of habitat loss and climate change. A single medium-sized elephant tusk with no notches or twists can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A pound of ivory is worth more than an equivalent amount of gold, cocaine, or oil. Even though trading ivory was outlawed in 1989, roughly one in ten elephants is still killed for its tusks. The culprits are increasingly gangs who use AK-47s and even grenades.
Poaching is also having a severe impact on rhinoceros populations. In 2011, a subspecies called the West African black rhinoceros was declared extinct. They had been so heavily hunted that their population had plummeted by 96 percent during the previous 30 years. Rhino are killed for their horns, which are used in traditional medicines and displayed as trophies. Rhino horn can sell for as much as $65,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) which makes it more expensive than diamonds or gold. Authorities fear that the rhinoceros will go extinct within the next 20 years.
The pangolin is a scaled mammal found in Asia and Africa that is hunted for its meat and scales. Soup made from pangolin fetus is a delicacy in Vietnam and China—and getting the primary ingredient requires killing the mother pangolin along with her unborn young. Pangolin body parts are used in traditional medicine, and live pangolins are sometimes sold as pets. About ten times as many pangolins as rhinos are poached every year. Some organizations estimate that the pangolin could be hunted to extinction within the next 25 years.
Tigers have been hunted for millennia, and many of their body parts are used in traditional medicine, despite the lack of evidence that such medicine actually helps. Tigers are also killed for their striped pelts. There are currently 3,000 tigers in the wild. While their numbers are slowly growing, most countries with tiger populations don’t have the money or infrastructure to maintain the conservation needed to protect these big cats.
Poaching is an epidemic that will damage the natural world as much as climate change and overpopulation will. It will also drive these animals and others to extinction.