JOHANNESBURG - Smuggling of endangered species and their products mainly from sub-Saharan Africa by international organized crime rings and armed groups is worth as much as $10 billion a year, Chatham House says.
Elephant poaching is at the highest level since a period of legal ivory trade in the 1980s that more than halved Africa's population of the world's largest mammals before a global ban on cross-border elephant ivory trade was approved, according to the study by Alex Vines and Katherine Lawson, researchers at the London-based institute's Africa program.
Rhinoceroses are also prominent in the trade that is "rising at an alarming rate," with their horns selling for over $66,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds), according to Chatham House. Last year 1,004 rhinos were poached in South Africa, or about 4 percent of the global wild population.
Poachers and guerrilla movements including the Lord's Resistance Army, which first emerged in Uganda and is classified by the United States as a terrorist group, are targeting elephants and rhinos "to satisfy increasing demand from growing middle classes across the world, particularly in Southeast Asia where ivory products and rhino horn are considered status symbols" and used for medicine, the authors wrote.
Chatham House recommends additional research to understand the reliance of poaching groups on the ivory and rhino horn trades and to study a range of policy responses.
"An armed response to the crisis might thus appear to be the only effective measure, or it might contribute to further destabilization," according to the report.
The legal trade in wildlife products is estimated at more than $300 billion a year, "a figure that can obscure the lesser but still significant value of the illegal trade," according to the report. The estimate of the illicit global trade of wildlife at between $8 and $10 billion excludes fisheries and timber.