LIBREVILLE, Gabon- Though the central African country of Gabon is considered a Middle Income Country (MIC) with per capita income of around $7,370, the country’s poverty level is still comparable to that of far lower-income countries.
In fact, poverty affects one-third of the 1.6 million people who currently reside in Gabon. The unemployment rate also remains at a high of 27 percent throughout the working population. An unequal distribution of income also plays a part in the high poverty rate in Gabon.
An unexpected result of Gabon’s high poverty rate is a rise in the amount of elephant killings. Around 50 to 100 elephants are killed daily by impoverished poachers. Since 2004, 11,000 elephants have been slaughtered in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park rain forest, according to a Wildlife Conservation study.
“This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great populations of elephants in Gabon will soon become a thing of the past,” WCS president and CEO Cristián Samper said.
Gabon is currently home to around half of Africa’s forest elephant population (over 40,000 total), but a thriving ivory market, which has recently seen a rise in prices and demand, is causing that number to dwindle. With a current pricing of $30,000 per pound, this “white gold” offers many people in Gabon a solution to poverty.
These impoverished hunters, such as Mannick Emane, are often the first link in the Gabon’s chain of illicit ivory trade.
“I would kill elephants for the right price. Life is tough,” Emane said. “So if someone is going to give us an opportunity for big money, we’re going to take it.”
Emane’s friend, Vincent Biyogo, also agreed with him.
“When I was born, I dreamed of a better life,” he said. “I dreamed of driving a car, going to school, living like a normal human being.”
“Not this,” he added as he stirred his pot of boiling caterpillars. “Not this.”
Others, like Therese Medza, a village hairdresser arrested for selling 45 pounds of elephant tusks, have come the same consensus. After stressing that she “had no idea it was illegal,” Medza finally said that her reason for poaching the animals was “simple. I’ve got seven kids.”
Thousands of impoverished people in Gabon, like Medza, seem to be willing to risk their lives to kill these animals to support their family. This means that fighting the poachers is only part of the answer.
“Fighting poverty has to be a key part of the long-term solution to this problem,” said Executive Director of the WCS’s Africa Program, James Deutsch.
President Obama agrees that something needed to be done. In July, he produced a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.
Ultimately, the strategy’s goals include funneling more money into African wildlife tourism and providing farm assistance that will help families become self-sustaining. These and other measures, it is hoped, will lessen the appeal of elephant poaching.
For more information on the elephants and how you can help, please go to Take Action.