Even the quickest glance at recent research about elephants reveals a sobering reality. The majority of reports are not about their amazing abilities and keen intelligence, but documents their slaughter at the hands of poachers.
It’s all the more cheering, then, to hear that in southeastern Cameroon, 20 elephant poachers have been arrested. Local authorities found them armed with 45 weapons including chainsaws, machetes and Kalashnikov rifles; a store of ivory tusks were seized as well as meat from elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees.
Forest Elephants in Central African Republic Threatened
It is not only for their ivory tusks that elephants have been hunted in droves to the point of extinction. In Central African Republic, they are being killed for their meat.
Not too long ago, more than 3,400 elephants lived in the Dzanga-Sangha reserve’s rain forests in southwestern Central African Republic. The area has a famous clearing where elephants gather in the dozens everyday. But a rebellion in March that led to the country’s overthrow by armed rebels from a group known as Seleka could spell disaster.
Some 40 elephants at Dzanga-Sangha have already been killed. Members of Seleka and Sudanese hunters are said to be “working in tandem” and killing elephants not only in the open savannah, but in the forest terrain of Central African Republic and of neighboring Cameroon. Hospitals and aid groups are being looted and the World Wildlife Federation has had to evacuate its staff in the Dzanga-Sangha reserve.
What We Can Learn From Elephants: Fighting Cancer
It’s tragic to imagine a world without elephants. New research shows how much we still have to learn about them and from them. Like humans, elephants have few offspring but naturally live a long time. A study suggests that their massive size can indeed help to stave off cancer risk. Evolutionary biologists think that larger animals may have evolved certain protective mechanisms that smaller ones (mice, for instance) do not have.
While it might seem that huge animals such as elephants and whales would be more likely to succumb to cancer, scientists have found that, across species, body mass is not correlated with the occurrence of cancer. Scientists are now at work sequencing the humpback whale genome and plan to compare it to others including the elephant genome, to see if nature has itself devised “cancer-prevention mechanisms that could be translated to the clinic.”
The arrest of the poachers in Cameroon is of course heartening. It goes without saving that elephants are being killed every day. 86, including 33 pregnant females and 15 young, in Chad were slaughtered in the middle of March, reportedly by men with machine guns.
Saving elephants will take not only the efforts of ecologists, conservationists and zoologists, but of governments: can we not say that keeping elephants from disappearing forever demands a global policy; that their killing is equivalent to a natural disaster? What if we elevated the preservation of elephants into, as some have called for, an issue of “human rights,” in recognition not only of their right to survive but of how much we humans need to learn from them for our own survival?
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