The demise of Ice-Age megafauna at the end of the last Ice-Age coincides with the geologically recent warming trend that put the finishing touches on the familiar coastlines and climate we enjoy today. But another contributing factor to some large animals going the way of the Do-do is called Overkill. The idea is that anatomically modern humans expanded across the globe rapidly beginning about 50,000 years ago, thanks in part to developing technology so effective that even one or two hunters could reliably bring down any animal no matter how huge and aggressive it was. But there were a few species that made it through the bottleneck, including some of the most spectacular. Like rhinos and elephants.
Sadly, we all know they now face a new threat from their old enemies. But if you think this is just a cause for concern among those of us who care about the environment and innocent creatures in mankind’s crosshairs, think again. Because this time around, they’re not being slaughtered in the name of basic survival with stone age tools, they’re being systematically hunted right over the precipice of extinction by well-armed thugs intent on wreaking havoc on equally innocent men, women, and children all over the planet.
The top sources of funding for terrorist attacks the world over includes trafficking in narcotics, arms, and even under-age brides, i.e., child sex slaves. These are not exactly classy people. They’re violent, ruthless criminal syndicates run by megalomaniacs who conflate themselves with principled dissidents or armed revolutionaries fed up with being exploited by authoritarian regimes, sort of a cross between Nelson Mandela and George Washington. In reality they share way more in common with Tony Montana and Michael Corleone.
They’ve taken poaching to a new level in pursuit of profit:
The horn and tusk trade is merely one element of a broader scope of intertwined illegal activities in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and money laundering. It all aims for the same goal: generating huge, illegal profits for criminals, who often provide funds that finance violent extremism. Those who bankroll these sophisticated quasi-military operations are international criminal networks, often working hand-in-hand with terror networks linked to or aligned with extremist groups.
A single horn of a rhinoceros can now fetch up to $30,000, one pair of tusk from a mature African elephant can bring in almost half a million. The rhino horns are a key ingredient in a variety of folk medicines cures, mostly consumed in Asia, and the ivory from tusks is carved into figurines and relief sculptures sold on the black market all over the world. Some of that money, along with revenue from drugs, arms, and slaves, is used to fund attacks against civilians.
The needless slaughter of magnificent animals on the endangered species list should be enough. But the national security angle could bring in support and badly needed resources from the usual suspects. Even then, even when “both sides” agree on a policy, we all know getting it through this Congress would be a heavy lift. But it might be something that’s liftable, and we’d better start thinking about it seriously: these creatures don’t have much time.
Elephants and rhinos evolved during repeated glaciations. They’re the poster critters for megafauna. Large animals in general and especially Ice-Age survivors have developed a number of adaptations to ensure survival of the species. Chief among these for mammals, including humans and our ancestors, is putting a lot of time into each adorable baby. Infant rhinos and elephants are usually born one at a time and depend on their mother for years before reaching maturity. These animals reproduce slowly. As a result, they have survived immense swings in climate and the rise of Mesolithic humans using the most advanced stone age technology and hunting methods ever developed. But now, they’re sitting ducks for high-powered rifles and modern tracking methods.
It’s not likely to get better for the megafauna who had the bad judgement to evolve tusks and horns. In the future, as Google Maps and similar systems come online that offer real time or even streaming surface data, so that analysts for big banks can count cars in Wal-Mart parking lots, their every movement could be public record. Available at the click of a mouse for naturalists to study and protect, or crooks to exploit and kill.
If we don’t do something soon, as a nation and a species, the rhinos could be gone from the wild in just a few more years and elephants may follow them into the pages of natural history within a decade or two. What a senseless loss that would be for all of us.