Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 9th 2015 Contents APRIL 2015 • WEEK TWO www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
The killers approached at
dawn on the African
plain. Their victim didn t
stand a chance. While she
was frolicking with her
young as the sun rose,
they fired high-velocity
weapons from afar. She
was thrown to the ground, mortally wounded,
in agony. However, the worst was yet to come.
Her assailants drew close. Armed with
machetes and axes, they mercilessly hacked
away at the defenseless victim, taking what
they considered to be her most precious valu-
ables. For hours afterward, her two youngsters
sat next to their dead, disfigured mother as
she lay in a pool of drying blood, hoping she
This type of violence, driven by greed, is
not rare in some parts of the world. The victims
in this case are not humans, but Africa s pop-
ulation of southern white rhinos. The horns
of these majestic animals are highly sought
after in many countries including China and
Vietnam, where many people treasure them
as luxury gifts or as natural remedies for ail-
ments, despite the fact that research has proven
again and again that rhino horn has no medic-
The rhino killers are often members of highly
trained paramilitary groups armed with state-
of-the-art weapons. These gangs have more
resources than local police and park rangers,
and their guns are far superior. As a result,
the frequency of attacks on rhinos has increased
dramatically in recent years, to more than
1,200 in 2014 in South Africa alone.
The illicit wildlife trade is a global industry
that rakes in billions of dollars every year.
Endangered species are driven closer to extinc-
tion as they are targeted for use as food or
pets, or to produce ornaments, furniture,
leathers, medicine or cosmetics. This trade
poses a momentous threat to our planet s bio-
The magnitude of the problem can be seen
in the declining numbers of rhinos.
In 2007, officials in South Africa reported
that only 13 southern white rhinos had been
poached, a number that led to cautious hope
that the problem was being contained. But
things quickly took a turn for the worse as
demand for rhino horn began to grow among
Asia s increasingly affluent consumers. In some
countries, a kilo of rhino horn is worth more
than its weight in gold.
By 2012, the number of poached rhinos in
South Africa had risen to nearly 670, and then
it doubled again over the next couple of years.
Protecting and monitoring Africa s national
parks is only a small part of the problem, since
poaching and trafficking are problems that
cross borders. The lucrative trade is attracting
criminal syndicates, which have organised
Even though many of the key traffickers
are known by name, they operate with impuni-
ty, protected by corrupt officials who benefit
from the status quo.
There is a cascade effect: Hunting some of
the planet s most amazing species into extinc-
tion doesn t just threaten biodiversity; left
unchecked, it can weaken the rule of law,
destabilising communities and entire nations.
This is a crisis that requires an international,
Some technological approaches are prom-
ising. New software systems like the spatial
monitoring and reporting tool can help make
wildlife patrols more effective.
Better aerial surveillance, including the use
of drones, can make a difference as well. But
it s impossible to disconnect supply from
demand. We need a global strategy that
encompasses the entire value chain; one that
guards protected wildlife areas, monitors the
airports and seaports for the trade, and disrupts
It can be solved by collaboration between
three groups: the conservation organisations
that understand the social and economic
dynamics of the wildlife trade better than any-
one else; national governments that can imple-
ment action plans and help to enforce effective
international regulation; and the private sector,
which can bring about change through inno-
vation and investment and by encouraging
This will only come about with pressure
from an informed public, which should be
mobilised through local social media platforms
and other channels.
We know what it takes to end poaching.
What we need to do now is to muster the col-
lective will to act.
We can---and must---do better.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the
Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and
Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at
can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered
in future columns. Please send them to
RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include
your name, country, email address and the
name of the Web site or publication where
you read the column.)
key to disrupting the poaching trade
3 ways to solve
When a problem seems impossible to
solve, what to do?
1. Explore new technological solutions:
Sometimes small innovations can give
you an edge, keep on top of develop-
ments in related fields.
2. Talk to your local political representa-
tive: Make sure that they are aware of
the obstacles your industry faces, and
look into whether local officials are em-
powered to help.
3. Crowd-sourcing: Consider using so-
cial media platforms to get new perspec-
tives on the problem and enlist others to
offer ideas or help.
We need a global strategy that encompasses the entire value chain;
one that guards protected wildlife areas, monitors the airports and seaports for the
trade, and disrupts consumer demand.
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