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16 MIN READ TIME

Myths Driving Wildlife Extinction

—KENDRICK FRAZIER

[ FROM THE EDITOR

We were on a walking trek in wilderness Tanzania. Our guide, W Thad, had obtained a special license for us to trek and camp in a part of the eastern Serengeti miles from any road, far from the areas most visitors see. Suddenly our tiny group came across a freshly abandoned poachers camp. Thad, an American born in Tanzania and who has lived all his life there, was furious. So was his assistant, a member of one of the local tribes. They set about destroying the camp. They angrily tore it apart, while the rest of us nervously looked over our shoulders wondering if the poachers were watching from the hills above. That was in 2009. Since then, as Bob Ladendorf and Brett Ladendorf report in this issue’s cover article “Wildlife Apocalypse,” poaching of big game in Africa has vastly accelerated. In 2005 sixty rhinos in Africa were killed for their horns or as trophies. Since then 7,000 more have been killed. The situation for elephants is even worse. Some 30,000 elephants are poached every year for their ivory. As one observer says, “Traders in ivory actually want the extinction of elephants.” It pushes prices ever higher.

It’s a sad and maddening tragedy happening right in front of us, and it is driven largely by myth and superstition—the bogus idea prevalent in certain Asian countries that rhino horns and elephant tusks have medicinal value as tonics, blood-purifiers, or aphrodisiacs. If you ever get asked, regarding superstitions and myths, “What is the harm?” you need only point to this extinction event driven by mythology occurring right now. It is tragic. And heart-breaking.

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