The word “abalone” probably doesn’t bring to mind the same connotations as, say, “heroin” — but conservationists in South Africa say that illegal trade in the ocean mollusk has wreaked the kind of havoc usually associated with narcotics, bringing guns, gangs, and violence to previously peaceful communities. Abalone is a prized gourmet food in much of Asia, and the market for it is so lucrative (up to $175 per pound) that young people are leaving school to take up poaching. As a result, the mollusk has been driven to the brink of extinction, taking much of the rich aquatic ecosystem with it. Authorities are trying to curb the poaching, but with internal corruption and armed and organized poachers, it’s an uphill battle. Marcel Kroese of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs described the situation as “a low-level war”: “The poachers often take pot shots at us. Frequently, when we go to try to make arrests, there are riots. … Sometimes, they’ve even held us hostage in police stations or petrol-bombed us.”