There are 20,000 to 40,000 elephants being hunted and killed annually in the world. According to records, there were 10 million elephants in the world less than 100 years ago, and now the number has drastically decreased to 450,000. Due to the smuggling trade of ivory, the world is facing the crisis of losing the largest land wild animal forever.
In China and other Asian countries and regions, there is a misconception that regards ivory as a means to cure diseases and strengthen one’s body, hence making ivory a popular high-class medicine in the black market, which is worth US$1,000 (around NT$30,800) per pound. Such high prices resulted in unlawful actions from dealers. It is difficult to rectify this international trade chain which has resulted in rampant smuggling.
Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants (known as H.O.P.E. in short) is an American NGO founded with the purpose of putting an end to wild elephant poaching. It provides comprehensive training, consulting, supporting, and purchasing services to anti-poaching and anti-wild animal smuggling projects in Africa. Acting as a bridge, H.O.P.E. accumulates the precious knowledge and technology from environment protection experts, American veterans, experts on sustainable development, and entrepreneurs to provide African partners with anti-poaching assistance.
Forming an Attachment with Africa during Military Service and Expecting to Put in Efforts for the Ecosystem
The founder and manager of H.O.P.E., Steve Brignoli, grew up in a small town in northwestern USA. After receiving a degree in art and graphic design at Furman University, he joined the US Army and served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and was an XO (executive officer) in the mission to Iraq. He later joined the 10th Special Forces that was deployed in Africa. After he was discharged, Steve Brignoli became a brilliant entrepreneur and contracted businesses from national defense to fitness training.
With his experience in the military and as a businessman, Steve Brignoli, who was brave enough to pursue breakthroughs, kept searching for the next climax of his life. He recalled when he witnessed how illegal ivory trades destroyed the natural ecosystem of Africa when he served in Africa and how massive the accomplice structure was. The wild life environment of Africa gave him the greatest experience of a lifetime, therefore, he could not hold back his emotion of wanting to give back. In the end, he decided to implement his feeling with actual action and founded H.O.P.E.
What has H.O.P.E. Accomplished?
H.O.P.E. can simultaneously provide one-stop projects and customized solutions for cooperating partners. In order for the “Africa Project on Anti-poaching and Anti-Wild Animal Smuggling” to have a better effect, H.O.P.E. will provide services that suit the social, political, and economic condition of the country after having in-depth discussion with the cooperating country.
For instance, H.O.P.E. is currently cooperating with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia. It has provided all sorts of training, including patrolling, tracking, self-defense, evidence collecting, and other skills to animal protection teams formed by the nations’ Special Forces. On the other hand, H.O.P.E. also purchased and upgraded their equipment, such as two-way radio and night vision devices. Besides helping animal protection teams to carry out their duties easier, unified equipment also enhanced the identity of anti-poacher workers and is conducive to gaining public recognition in the long term.
Greatest Challenge on Animal Protection.
Steve Brignoli mentioned that, for common farmers, wild animal conservation is not only hard to co-exist with their livelihood, many wild animal protection policies cause direct damage to the economic benefit of the farmers. On the other hand, poachers could provide lucrative rewards to purchase those animals, making farmers who struggle economically more willing to cooperate with poachers. After all, one does not get paid for protecting elephants and has to endure the damage wild animals have on their crops or even get their lives endangered. The idea of ecological balance is too far-fetched to the daily life of farmers and has little incentive to them.
Many surveys carried out by H.O.P.E. in Tanzania indicated that in order to coordinate with wild animal protection projects, the freedom of living of local residents were deprived (they had to move to other places in coordination with the project). This was the main reason why they participated in poaching, rather than seeking profit from the illegal ivory trade.
On the other hand, the conditions in Zimbabwe are slightly different. In the past, Zimbabwe used to increase its trade amount by selling wild animal trophies to Europe and the USA. However, since the EU has stipulated laws restricting the import of trophies on endangered species, the hunting revenue of the country has greatly decreased, thus many people entered the elephant poaching market.
The problems that H.O.P.E. has encountered are those that any country might face when they carry out environmental protection policies. Evidently, no matter how governments, organizations (such as EU) or NGOs call upon, stipulate prohibition, or making snap decisions of getting rid of poachers, this industry chain remains hard to eradicate as if nothing had happened.
No matter how aware we are of the severe consequences of poaching, we had to admit that the rise and fall of the ivory industry lies on the market and not government policies.
Although the government, civil social corporations, and NGOs have finally faced this problem in recent years and aggressively come up with ways that allow country residents to co-exist and co-prosper with wild animals, there are only very few successful cases. Before the co-existence project can greatly expand, the greatest challenge remains on the cooperation between farmers and poachers.
After explaining the elephant poaching industry of Africa, which has a scale relevant to its manufacturing industry, we came to realize that the problem could not be solved by enacting strict laws. To the common people, the more effective way to stop them is to provide them with more benefits instead of enacting strict laws and punishments. Some experts proposed that understanding the demand of the people while developing infrastructures is the way to maintain sustainable ecosystem. At the same time, beneficial measures should also be stipulated for country residents to gain profit.
Successful cases of H.O.P.E. cooperating with different countries will be introduced in the next article.