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Mortal facet of the forest economy

Publication Date : 09-01-2013


Human life is cheap; cheaper still must be the purportedly precious wild life. Reality, however, belies the frequent protestations of concern by wildlife enthusiasts.

No fewer than 21 rhinos were reported to have been killed by poachers in the forests of Kaziranga in the year gone by. 

This is but a fraction of the casualties around the world, the frightful symptom of a global crisis that has spawned an illicit trade in wildlife, chiefly in rhino horn and elephant ivory.

Governments in Asia and Africa have been pretty much helpless against those involved in the killing and the trade. While the poaching of rhinos and tigers is fairly endemic in India, it is virtually spinning out of control in Africa.

Indeed, Asia and Africa have over the past year emerged as the danger continents for the rhino as much as the elephant, and to be mowed down by a speeding train must be a uniquely Indian phenomenon.

Such accidents add a new dimension to the killing of elephants for ivory, as in Assam. Poaching has reached a record, almost chilling, high with the death of 600 rhinos and 3000 elephants in the two continents over the past year alone. Rhino horn and ivory have fetched US$60,000 per kilogramme--equivalent to the price of gold. It is a mind-boggling forest economy that is thriving at the cost of the natural habitat.

No less amazing is that the crisis that confronts wildlife across a vast swathe of the world is yet to stir the conscience of humans, least of all the jungle tourists. Have any of the supposedly benevolent NGOs ever reacted to the killing of elephants on the rail track?  Across Asia and Africa, the killing and the trade have been fuelled by the almost unaffordable usage. While ivory is used for luxury carvings, the rhino horn in its powdered form is sought for cancer treatment by those who have faith in traditional medicine.

Indeed, the usage in Africa varies from the medicinal to financing the civil war; rebels belonging to the Lord’s Resistance Army and Darfur’s Janjaweed are hunting elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons.

Drastic action to rein in the poachers is direly imperative, indeed a ban on the worldwide sale of ivory and the horn to save the elephant and the rhino, both in Asia and Africa. “The world must wake up,” was Hillary Clinton’s exhortation. Sad to say, the world by and large has been remarkably insensitive. Sundarbans and Kaziranga only showcase the trend, a mortal facet of the worldwide forest economy.


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