JOHANNESBURG — Smuggling of endangered species and their products mainly from sub-Saharan Africa by international organized crime rings and armed groups is worth as much as $10 billion a year, according to a London institute.
Elephant poaching is at the highest level since a period of legal ivory trade in the 1980s that more than halved Africa’s population of the world’s largest mammals before a global ban on cross-border elephant ivory trade was approved, according to the study by Alex Vines and Katherine Lawson, researchers at the Africa program of Chatham House.
Rhinoceroses are also prominent in the trade that is ‘‘rising at an alarming rate,’’ said Chatham House. Last year 1,004 rhinos, about 4 percent of the global wild population, were poached in South Africa.
Poachers and guerrilla movements including the Lord’s Resistance Army, which first emerged in Uganda and is classified by the United States as a terrorist group, are targeting elephants and rhinos ‘‘to satisfy increasing demand from growing middle classes across the world, particularly in Southeast Asia where ivory products and rhino horn are considered status symbols’’ and used for medicine, the authors wrote.