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Global Poaching Crisis Underscores Importance of Prize Winners’ Work

September 18, 2012

Over the past several weeks, The New York Times and National Geographic Magazine dedicated pages and pages of lengthy articles to the global poaching crisis. While those articles focus mostly on the African elephant and the ‘blood ivory’ trade, poaching of endangered species is on the rise worldwide.

With poaching levels at their highest in decades, one may start to wonder- why? The answer has much to do with China’s recent economic boom. A burgeoning middle class is emerging with more disposable income than ever before, resulting in more people with the means to afford delicacies and luxuries that were previously reserved for the extremely wealthy.

A rise in demand for everything from shark fin soup, to ivory products, to traditional medicines (such as powdered rhino horn) means big profits for suppliers, and in many cases the animals behind the products are worth more dead than alive. According to The New York Times article “Elephants Dying as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits,” a single adult elephant tusk can fetch 10 times the average annual salary in most African countries.

2010 Prize recipient, Randall Arauz, understands this cost-benefit scenario all too well. Because shark fins command $70 per kilo- while shark meat yields only about $.50 per kilo- it has not made economic sense for ships to fill valuable hold space with a commodity worth so little. Therefore the practice of ‘shark finning’- in which workers slice the fins from live animals before tossing the bodies back into the ocean to die – has risen sharply in recent years. Arauz won the Goldman Prize for his efforts to raise awareness of shark finning and continues to push for more stringent laws and regulations to protect sharks worldwide.

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Another of Africa’s most endangered species due to poaching is the black rhino. Rhino horns, like ivory, are extremely valuable on the black market. Powdered rhino horn is used in traditional Chinese medicine for its perceived healing and aphrodisiac properties. Zimbabwean native Raoul du Toit, was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2011 for his work to protect Southern Africa’s black rhino population. He established the Lowveld Rhino Trust in 2009 to secure large swaths of protected habitat.

Today, du Toit and his small team work in and around the large Lowveld reserves to monitor rhinos, address injuries, reinforce efforts to tackle poaching, and build community awareness of the need to conserve rhinos. “We have to build that sense of respect and wonder for these animals, and also a sense of pride. These are African animals and African communities must feel some pride that they’re here,” Du Toit said, explaining his community outreach efforts.

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Likewise, Tuy Sereivathana, the 2010 Prize recipient from Cambodia, utilizes community empowerment to protect local wildlife. Known affectionately as “Uncle Elephant,” Sereivathana introduces innovative low-cost solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Cambodia. He demonstrates unique, cruelty-free ways to “scare” elephants away from crops- effectively reducing the number of elephants killed each year by angry farmers.

Goldman Prize winners are working to curb the effects of poaching around the world by raising awareness, advocating for stricter regulations, and working with local communities to enhance the value of the living, breathing creatures with which they live.

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