Africa’s majestic elephants are in serious trouble. Like any other species on the planet, the animal is being severely impacted by a changing climate and a growing human population, but it is also being slaughtered to the brink of extinction.
Prized for their ivory, which on today’s market can sell for over $1,500 a kilo, African elephants are particularly susceptible to poachers. The growing demand for ivory-based products in Asia, particularly in developing China, is fueling the new rage in illegal trade in Kenya and Kenyan officials are at a loss for what to do. As a recent CNN report stated: “If this level of killing continues, if elephants continue to be slaughtered for trinkets and statuettes, in ten years time, most of Africa’s elephants will be gone…”
The numbers are staggering. Samuel Wasser, a recognized authority on the disappearance of elephants, has warned that no more than 400,000 African elephants remain in the wild today. As a point of comparison, there were over one million at the beginning of the 1980s. We’re clearly at a major moral crossroads: hundreds of species are lost daily and those that remain are struggling for habitat and resources. The elephant, one of the planet’s most socially intelligent creatures with a long human history, is now among those creatures being thoughtlessly eradicated, but in this case, for decorative artwork.
Unfortunately, this issue remains predominately buried in the media with little international attention. Local communities, governments and animal welfare groups, however, are working diligently to bring this important topic to the spotlight in an effort to raise awareness and ultimately save the African elephant from extinction, mainly citing the important place elephants hold in the larger web of African wildlife, as well as noting their larger global significance.
So what can you do? First and foremost, should you ever witness ivory being sold, immediately document and report it. You can also contact your elected officials to express your concern in hopes the U.S. may continue to push for increased international trade regulations under CITES. In the end, however, this problem comes down to global accountability and market demand; as long as ivory is prized, there will be illegal poachers on the supply side. What we really should be asking is: is it worth it? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Photo Credit: Thomas Breuer