Judging from the amount of ivory seized, 2012 was the “worst year ever” for illegal ivory poaching in Africa, according to some sources, while others point to 2011 as the “annus horribilis”. Last year saw 34 tons of ivory confiscated, the largest amount on record for a single year. Experts state that 4-5 elephants are killed each day, mostly for their ivory, which is destined for Asian markets.

From the New York Times:

Demand from an increasingly affluent Asia and improved international trade and transport links have caused the trade in ivory and other wildlife products to soar in recent years, pushing many species to the brink. At the same time, enforcement and penalties remain weak in many countries, constituting little deterrent to smugglers and poachers, conservationists say.

The new year got off to a particularly bloody start in terms of wildlife poaching. There was the widely-publicized seizure of ivory in Hong Kong, in which customs officials discovered 779 pieces of ivory hidden in a shipping container. This followed several large seizures in 2012, including a discovery of over 1,000 tusks in Port Klang, Malaysia – reportedly the largest seizure of illegal ivory in history.

Elephant family in Kenya, pic: Nick Carson (Flickr CC)

Poachers in Kenya reportedly killed an entire family of 11 elephants on Saturday, a slaughter which equals over 10% of the average elephant killings in the country per year. The incident marks the worst single incident in ivory poaching ever recorded in Kenya. Read more on that story on BBC News.

Just over a week into the new year and things have been no better for rhinos. Four white rhino were killed for their horns in Zimbabwe on New Year’s Day, while two rhinos were poached in Kruger National Park in South Africa over the weekend and another in Madikwe Game Reserve. A recent study entitled “The Dalberg Report: Fighting Illicit Wildlife Trafficking” found efforts to stop the illegal trade in animal parts to be ineffectual.

From the Times Live (South Africa):

The compilers of the report surveyed a number of experts in wildlife trafficking, including law enforcement officers and government officials. Since 2007, rhino poaching in South Africa has rocketed by 3000%, with at least 633 rhinos killed in the country last year.

Elephants are being slaughtered for trinkets and status symbols, while rhinos are killed for medicines that have absolutely no benefit. That means it’s not just the rhinos who are suffering from their horns being used in bogus cures, but people as well.

Rhino, South Africa, pic: Jonathan Talbot, World Resources Institute