An international summit aimed at tackling the illegal ivory trade threatening rhinos and elephants starts Thursday.    

Summit Aims to End Ivory Trade

Before elephants, rhinos disappear

Global leaders will gather in London Thursday in an effort to end the illegal ivory trade threatening elephants and rhinos.

The international summit, hosted by the British government, will include representatives from 50 countries. The meeting will be one of the highest-level gatherings yet aimed at stopping the illegal wildlife trade—estimated to be worth about $16 billion a year.   

An increasingly wealthy Asian middle class has driven the demand for ivory sky high. Rhino horn sells for more than $27,000 per pound (more than the prices of gold and cocaine), while a pound of ivory can fetch almost $1,000 on the black market.   

This increasingly lucrative business has devastated wildlife populations in a handful of African countries. A recent study found that five nations in central Africa lost 65 percent of their forest elephants during a nine-year period. More than 1,000 rhinos died in South Africa last year—up from just 13 in 2007.

The summit likely won’t dedicate additional money to fighting poachers, the Guardian reports. Instead, leaders from the 50 countries hope to sign a declaration to begin a coordinated offensive against the illegal trade. 

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