NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — One of Kenya's top wildlife advocates said Monday that she fears that elephants, rhinos and lions could be wiped out from Africa's wild lands by 2030.
The United Nations Environmental Program on Monday marked the U.N.'s first-ever World Wildlife Day to raise awareness about an illicit global trade in illegal timber, elephant ivory and rhino horns worth an estimated $19 billion.
UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said that World Wildlife Day can help remind the world that humans living on Earth today will determine if endangered species will survive and be seen by future generations.
Paula Kahumbu, the executive director of the group Wildlife Direct, said she fears that elephants, rhinos and lions could be extinct by 2030. Poachers have increasingly been targeting elephants and rhinos for a growing consumer class in Asia.
"The wildlife situation in this country is at an all-time low," Kahumbu said on the sidelines of a UNEP conference. "We have doubled the rate of poaching in 12 months, of rhinos. We are now the No. 1 country for the trafficking of ivory, according to Interpol. Kenya used to be the No. 1 country in the world in terms of conservation."
Kahumbu over the weekend sent out over Twitter a picture of a rhino — still alive — whose horn had been cut off on Friday. The rhino was standing on a road in one of South Africa's major wildlife parks, Kruger.
"It's heartbreaking to see the cruelty that people are willing to inflict on these animals," she said. "They cut off its horn and it's still alive, and it's still suffering." South Africa, she said, has lost more than 100 rhinos to poaching this year. Kenya has lost 11. And far more elephants have been lost in the region.
Steiner said China is working to stop the illegal importation of ivory but that the country is vast with a large border and that it is struggling to contain the illegal trade of ivory like some countries struggle to combat illegal drugs. He cheered China's recent move to publicly destroy a cache of ivory.
In East Africa, Tanzania is losing more elephants — thousands per year — than any other country. Steiner called it an "onslaught" against the country's economy and bio-diversity. He called on citizens in Europe, North America and Asia to understand that when they buy ivory or rhino horn, that it comes from a dead animal.
"What, hopefully, World Wildlife Day will do is remind us that it's our generation that has the possibility to determine the fate of many species' future survival, that we have the responsibility, obligation and power to get involved in this issue," Steiner said. "Wildlife is not here just for our generation. Imagine the world without rhinos or elephants. It's not a world that anyone wants."