The poaching numbers are grim. The number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa has risen from 13 in 2007 to 448 last year, WWF says. Last year saw more large-scale ivory seizures than any year in the last two decades, it said. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed by poachers each year.
It's not known what kind of impact religious leaders may be able to make, but Mike Watson, the chief executive of the Kenya's Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, said he and other conservationists will take any help they can get. Lewa saw one of its rhinos killed by poachers last week. The park had never suffered a rhino poaching death before 2009; it's had five of its rhinos killed since then.
"We know for a fact that one of the demands for ivory is religious icons in the Far East, and if pressure can be brought to bear to reduce that demand both locally here in Kenya through assistance by religious leaders, and overseas, it can only be a good step," he said. "It might take generations. If religious leaders can some way speed that process up, all well and good, but all efforts need to be on the table."
Africa is the supply side of the poaching equation, but the demand comes from Asia. Chungyalpa said WWF is working with Buddhists in Southeast Asia to try to educate Asian consumers about ivory and rhino horn powder. Yao Ming, the oversized basketball star from China, visited Kenya last month to raise awareness and make a film called "The End of the Wild."
Chungyalpa compared the effort to enlist religious leaders in the anti-poaching fight to how religious pressure helped end the era of apartheid in South Africa.
"There has to be a rising up of moral outrage," she said. "This is the spirit we're after."
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