More Sharing Services
The African savannah elephant is the largest land mammal in
the world. A mature bull elephant may stand up to 13 feet tall
at the shoulder and weigh 14,000 pounds. The most noticeable
distinction between African savannah and forest elephants is
size: The savannah is larger and has bigger and more curved
tusks. Asian elephants have much smaller ears than both
African species and usually, only the male Asian elephant
African savannah elephants have large home ranges, spanning
hundreds of square miles. As they move, they push over trees
to get to their branches and roots, helping maintain the
grasslands, and they use their tusks and trunks to dig for water,
creating pools that many other animals need to survive. These
elephants are important dispersers of seeds through their
consumption of fruit.
In folklore, elephants are known for not forgetting. For the
African savannah elephant, memory is a tool for surviving
challenges that may come intermittently over decades. Longterm memory tends to be vested in the older females, called
matriarchs, without which the herd could die of starvation or
dehydration. During the drought of 1993 inTanzania, elephant
matriarchs that remembered a similar drought 35 years before
led their herds beyond the borders of Tarangire National
Park in search of food and water. Groups with matriarchs that
were not old enough to remember the previous drought
suffered a 63 percent mortality of their calves that year.
Unfortunately, these large females are the most attractive
targets for ivory poachers. The animals tend to have the largest
tusks, and they may be easier to find than the males.
Elephants have complex social behavior. When a member
of the herd dies, they cover the body with grass and dirt and
stay near the site for several hours.
African savannah elephants communicate across great
distances at low frequencies that cannot be heard by humans.
An elephant herd consists of related females and their
young and is managed by the eldest female. Adult male
elephants rarely join a herd and lead a solitary life, only
approaching herds during mating season.
African savannah elephants may live up to 70 years in the
wild, longer than any other mammals except humans.
An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles and
tendons. The trunk can lift large objects, yet its sensitive tip
can manipulate very small things.
Habitat loss and poaching are the biggest concerns for the survival of
elephants. As the human footprint has grown in Africa, elephant habitats
have been converted to farmland, deforested by industrial logging and
mining, and otherwise developed by roads and settlements. Poachers kill
elephants for their ivory and meat, and farmers sometimes kill them to
protect their crops, which elephants often raid. The IUCN lists African
savannah elephant populations as Vulnerable.
WCS works throughout much of the elephant's remaining habitat to
monitor and manage populations and find novel approaches to reduce
human-elephant conflict. One way to decrease elephant raids on human
crops is to help farmers devise methods of keeping elephants away.
Such examples include using chili pepper smoke or chili pepper spray
blasted from guns, which serves as a noxious airborne deterrent. WCS
supports the Elephant Pepper Development Trust, a program that sells
hot sauce grown from alternative pepper crops to aid local farmers and
elephant protection efforts.
WCS has been supporting elephant studies in Tanzania’s Tarangire
National Park—one of the best parks in Africa to see large herds of
calm elephants. Our main goals there are to protect migration routes and
dispersal areas beyond the park's relatively safe boundaries and to work
with local Maasai and tourism operators to accomplish this.
Working with local governments to curtail poaching, WCS undertook a
fundraising effort to support game wardens in Virunga National Park in
the Democratic Republic of Congo. The wardens suffered attacks by
armed militias who were poaching elephants in the park. WCS also
sounded the alarm when poachers with automatic rifles killed 2,000
savannah elephants in Chad’s Zakouma National Park. WCS
subsequently established a fund to help save the park’s surviving
elephants, numbering fewer than 1,000. A WCS pilot and light aircraft
that are based in Zakouma continually provide information to Chad’s
park service about poaching activities and elephant herd locations.
From the Newsroom
Banning Ivory Sales in AmericaFebruary 18, 2014
As the second-largest market for ivory in the world, the United
States recently announced that it will ban the trade within its
borders through a series of new rules. The editorial board of
the New York Times explores the implications.
The Bloody Ivory BusinessFebruary 8, 2014
Following recent ivory crushes by the governments of France,
China, and the U.S., the editorial board of the New York
Times evaluates an initiative by New York State legislators to
prohibit all ivory sales in the state, including those that are now
How We Can End the Elephant Poaching CrisisAugust 20,
In a blog post following her recent trip to Tanzania’s Tarangire
National Park, where she observed elephants and met with WCS
staff, Chelsea Clinton writes on the urgency of ending the
In the Fight Against Elephant Poaching, the U.S. Can
LeadJuly 29, 2013
WCS’s John Calvelli, Exec. Vice President for Public Affairs,
describes the momentum building to save elephants as U.S.
lawmakers begin to understand how the poaching crisis is
impacting not just wildlife, but security, diplomacy,
development, and conservation as well.
Collars Protect Elephants in South SudanJuly 1, 2013
WCS conservationists, together with officials from South
Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, have
ramped up efforts to protect the country’s last elephants by
fitting individual animals with GPS collars for remote tracking.
The largest land mammal on earth, the African elephant weighs up to
eight tons. The elephant is distinguished by its massive body, large ears
and a long trunk, which has many uses ranging from using it as a hand
to pick up objects, as a horn to trumpet warnings, an arm raised in
greeting to a hose for drinking water or bathing.
Asian elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives. They
are much smaller in size and their ears are straight at the bottom, unlike
the large fan-shape ears of the African species. Only some Asian male
elephants have tusks. All African elephants, including females, have
tusks. Elephants are either left or right-tusked and the one they use more
is usually smaller because of wear and tear. The Asian elephant has four
toes on the hind foot and five on the forefoot, while the African elephant
has three on the hind foot and five on the forefoot.
Led by a matriarch, elephants are organized into complex social
structures of females and calves, while male elephants tend to live in
isolation. A single calf is born to a female once every 4-5 years and after
a gestation period of 22 months—the longest of any mammal. These
calves stay with their mothers for years and are also cared for by other
females in the group.
The two species of elephants—African and Asian—need extensive land
to survive. Roaming in herds and consuming hundreds of pounds of
plant matter in a single day, both species of elephant require extensive
amounts of food, water and space. As a result, these large mammals
place great demands on the environment and often come into conflict
with people in competition for resources.
About the African elephant
The African elephant is the world’s biggest land animal. There
are two subspecies – the larger savannah elephant, which
roams grassy plains and woodlands, and the smaller forest
elephant, which lives in the forests of central Africa.
Female African elephants are very social animals. They live in
strongly bonded groups – called herds – with their relatives.
Males usually live alone but sometimes form small groups with
other males. Elephants need a lot of space to find food and
water – they can roam areas bigger than 30,000 sq km.
The African elephants’ range has declined by over 50% since
1979 – and their populations are becoming more fragmented.
While some are secure and expanding, other populations are in
decline – particularly in central Africa.
With only 600,000 elephants in the wild – and threats from
poaching, habitat loss and conflict with people – this intelligent
and powerful animal is officially classed as vulnerable.
Find out how you can help protect african elephants
Why elephants matter
Elephants play a crucial role in their ecosystem. They are the architects
of their landscape – opening up woodlands as they feed and roam. For
example, in forests elephants create clearings which allow new plants to
grow and naturally regenerate the forest.
They also play a vital role in seed dispersal, especially for large seeds
that are not spread by smaller animals. Without elephants these larger
seeds would either be dispersed over shorter distances, dispersed less
often, or not dispersed at all. This would affect the natural structure and
functioning of the forest ecosystem – which is important to people and
Local people also depend on the natural resources within elephant
habitat for food, fuel and income. As one of Africa’s ‘big five’, elephants
are a popular sight for tourists. This brings benefits to local people –
ecotourism can be an important source of income for them.
By helping protect elephants, we’re helping conserve their habitat,
supporting local communities, and making sure natural resources are
available for generations to come.
Threats to elephants
Illegal wildlife trade
African elephants are vulnerable to poaching for the illegal
trade in their ivory and meat. Their ivory tusks are the most
sought after, but their meat and skin are also traded. Tens of
thousands of elephants are killed every year for their tusks.
Ivory is often carved into ornaments and jewellery – China is
the biggest consumer market for such products.
As the human population expands, more land is being
converted to agriculture. So elephant habitat is shrinking and
becoming more fragmented. This means elephants and people
come into contact more often, and conflicts occur. Elephants
sometimes raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops –
affecting the farmers’ livelihoods – and may even kill people.
Elephants are sometimes killed in retaliation.
How WWF is helping protect African elephants
African elephant programme
Our African elephant programme aims to create stability for
elephant populations and their habitats in 20 landscapes by
2017. To achieve this, we’re focusing on tackling all threats to
this species – poaching, habitat loss and conflicts between
people and elephants.
Tackling illegal wildlife trade
We’re helping reduce poaching by improving protection and
management of their habitat, including helping to train and
equip law enforcement and anti-poaching teams. We work
alongside TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to
investigate, expose and crack down on the illegal trade in ivory
– and to reduce the demand, so this trade will no longer be a
significant threat to elephant conservation.
Creating new protected areas
We’re also helping create new protected areas and setting up
wildlife corridors that link fragmented habitats. It means
elephants have more space to roam without coming into
villages, and different populations can mix and breed.
END ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE
Help Stop the Slaughter of Elephants
The killing may be taking place on another continent, but by supplying
these poachers with a market to sell their blood ivory the U.S. is helping
to pull the fatal trigger.
President Obama has made all the right moves, but until his good
intentions are translated into action the tragic loss of the world’s largest
land mammal will continue unchecked.
Help us stop this horrific slaughter, and tell President Obama to
crack down on the illegal trade and sale of ivory within the United
THE ELEPHANT DEBATE
By Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E.: 1992 UNEP Global 500 Laureate.
No animal triggers more heated debate within conservation circles than the
elephant, for no animal has greater impact on the environment or is more
"human" emotionally. Elephants can change the face of the landscape enacting
their allotted "recycling" role and they share with us humans many emotional
traits. Theirs is a parallel lifespan, the same rate of development, a sense of
family and death, loyalties and friendships forged over the years that span a
lifetime and a memory that probably far surpasses our own. They also have
additional attributes such as "instinct", that mysterious genetic knowledge
crucial to survival; the ability to communicate over distance with low frequency
infra-sound hidden to human ears, and, like many other animals, powers of
telepathy. Hence, the question of how best to "manage" these highly
sophisticated and sensitive pachyderms inevitably evokes heated debate.
Elephants and Ivory:- Unhappily, the ivory of their huge "incisors" has
commercial and mystical significance, particularly in the Far East. In Japan, it is
used for signature seals known as "hankas" and in many other Far Eastern
countries such as China the ancient art of carving is an important industry with
skills handed down over generations from father to son. It is the demand in the
East for an ivory hanka, or in the West for an ivory trinket, that has injected the
commercial element into ivory and it is the commercial trade that now threatens
the survival of the largest land mammal on earth. All who buy ivory have blood
on their hands, for it has cost an elephant its life and that of all its dependent
young. It has also wrought immeasurable psychological suffering to many
others who were friends and loved ones.
Elephants need S P A C E and space is a commodity that is fast becoming scarce
due to human expansion. Ancient migration routes have been cut and elephants
driven into their last refuges, often too small to be viable in the long-term, or
positioned in marginal land where survival hinges on the variables of rainfall.
Meanwhile, conflicting messages from the elephant range States and different
conservation factions has bred confusion in the minds of the lay public and
since it is "people power" that will ultimately determine the course of events, it
is important that the complexities of the elephant story are fully understood.
Thirty years ago the elephant population of Africa stood at a healthy 3 million.
Today less than 250,000 remain with numbers poised to decline further due to
human pressures. Remnant elephant communities isolated from one another and
holed up in small refuge areas immediately become "problem animals" every
time they put a foot out, since they find themselves in conflict with human
interests. The price of this is a bullet.
Elephant society is comprised of bonded female units which stay together for
life (young bulls leave the natal family at puberty to apprentice themselves to
high ranking bulls in order to learn the codes of behaviour that govern bull
society). The female unit is led by the oldest member of the family, known as
the Matriarch, and it is she who makes all the decisions for her family. Hence,
within the cow units, the misfortunes of one, affect, all, making them
particularly vulnerable. Elephant infants cannot survive without milk for the
first two years of life. Thereafter, ideally, a calf would supplement its diet of
vegetation with some milk from its mother for the next three years until the
arrival of the next baby, by which time it will be 5 years old. It will reach
puberty between the age of l0 and l5 years; be a young adult at 20, in its prime
in its thirties and forties, still strong and healthy yet ageing in its fifties, and old
beyond the age of sixty. Therefore, when a calf is orphaned younger than two, it
is usually doomed, for whilst the family will love and care for it as best they
can, few cow elephants with a calf at foot will have the lactating capacity to
suckle two; nor would a cow jeopardise her own calf by doing so. Occasionally,
if times are good, an old cow wise in the ways of motherhood will allow an
orphan to suckle if she has lost a baby, or has one not wholly milk dependent,
but such instances are rare. Deprived of milk, an orphaned infant will weaken
rapidly, fall behind the herd and then the Matriarch must abandon it in the
interests of the others whose survival is her responsibility. Her decision is final.
The gestation period for an elephant is between 22 and 24 months. A young cow
can fall pregnant for the first time at puberty, so given optimum conditions a
female elephant could have her first calf at the age of l2 or 14, thereafter
producing one baby every five years into her sixties. However, conditions are
seldom optimal for elephants these days. Most populations are under stress
which inhibits conception; many are subjected to intense human intrusion
through mass tourism and scientific monitoring; droughts are commonplace in
marginal areas with both water and food scarce and, of course, in Southern
Africa economics dominate, in a flawed "if it pays it stays" attitude, so periodic
culls are accepted as necessary management practice. There the meat of culled
elephants is canned as pet food, their hide turned into leather, fetching high
prices in Japan, their feet sold as curios and their young sold to Zoos and
Circuses under the "educational" loophole in the laws governing endangered
species. What can be educational in viewing a miserable and usually psychotic
captive is questionable, to say the least, particularly in this day and age of
The scale of abuse attached to the live baby elephant trade was graphically
highlighted by what became known as the Tuli Debacle. Calves, some of which
were only two years old, were snatched from their living families by Helicopter
in the Tuli Block of Botswana and subsequently cruelly brutalised in a South
African so called "training" facility in preparation for sale to China and the Far
East. There they became the subject of a cruelty Court Case which ended up
generating such international outrage that some, at least, were released into
Marakele National Park where they subsequently became absorbed into a wild
herd. However, others less fortunate were spirited away to Northern Transvaal ,
(no doubt to be "trained" further far from the public spotlight) and yet others
were clandestinely airlifted to Zoos in Switzerland and Germany, there to face
life imprisonment in conditions that are far from suitable for an elephant.
(Pressure is being exerted to try and get these wild caught captives returned
back to where they belong). Another report from Tanzania told of young
elephants being isolated from the herd and chased by Landrovers until
exhausted, then being netted and dragged hundreds of metres to a waiting
transporter. (Needless to say, none of these captives survived). It is known that
the live animal trade also acts as a convenient cover and conduit for illegal
narcotics and diamonds.
The demand for young elephants in China is ongoing, because mortality is high
in a country where animal welfare is an alien concept and captive elephants are
subjected to untold cruelty and suffering. CITES (The International Convention
on Trade in Endangered Species) has always conveniently overlooked what is,
and is not, "a suitable destination" in terms of elephants since few of the
delegates are conversant with the needs, and nature, of elephants. The trade is
lucrative, the demand is there, and money talks!
Poaching and CITES:- In the 1970's and 80's poaching escalated to such an
extent that public outcry forced the International Community to take action.
North of the Zambezi, entire populations of elephants faced annihilation;
security within the Parks impacted negatively on tourism, (the mainstay of
many African economies), and the situation was desperate. Finally,
in 1989, CITES, which meets every two years to discuss trade in threatened and
endangered species, was forced to impose an International Ban on the sale of all
ivory. Elephants were placed on the fully protected Appendix I listing, the
price of ivory fell sharply and with it the incentive to poach. In short, the
elephants won a reprieve just in time throughout most of Africa and some
countries such as Kenya and Zambia went so far as to burn their ivory stocks in
a gesture of commitment and goodwill.
However, others further South and some further North in possession of illegal
stockpiles, chose to hoard it, and immediately began to orchestrate a cunning
P.R. campaign to be allowed to sell it, despite the fact that a further l0,000
elephants were estimated to have perished when Hong Kong was allowed to sell
its stockpile immediately after the ban was imposed. This should have been a
warning heeded but commercial interests often cloud good judgement.
The International Ivory Ban held for the next 8 years and for the first time ever
poaching was brought under control. Furthermore, the in-house corruption that
had crept into most wildlife authorities could be addressed. Yet, eight years is
time enough only for just two generations of elephants to be born to replace the
holocaust of the previous two decades and certainly not time enough to heal the
fragile fabric of elephant society which had been severely disrupted. Still the
pressure mounted from the Southern Africans with talk of "over population",
"rampaging elephants" spilling out of protected areas to conflict with human
interests, and the perennial cry that the dead must pay for the living. In this
respect a quote from Dr. Richard Leakey sums up the opinion of informed
conservationists:- "Biodiversity cannot be given a price The point is that
species must stay, so we must pay. National Parks are not larders to be
plundered and exploited." One can be excused for thinking that perhaps we
humans should begin by addressing the negative impact our species has had on
the planet through cultivation, open-cast mining, industrial pollution, river
contamination, forest felling and other facets of mismanagement! The damage
done to the planet by homo sapiens exceeds that of all others.
In June l997, another CITES Convention was convened in Harare,
Zimbabwe, and amidst a great deal of political manoeuvring, the Ivory Ban that
had held for the past eight years was overturned, and overturned in an unethical
way through a second secret ballot. This over-rode the first vote in favour of the
elephants, because the European Union chose to abstain, which cost the
elephants dearly. In so doing, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana finally won
the right for a one-off sale of their ivory stockpiles to Japan. Shamefully, this
time, Animal Welfare Organisations there to speak for the animals and provide
some semblance of "conscience" within a trade oriented forum, were denied
even a voice, despite the fact that it is they who are best equipped to furnish the
usually ill informed delegates with first hand information on conservation
issues. Even the report of the scientific "Panel of Experts" which questioned the
poaching figures submitted by Zimbabwe, fell on deaf ears. In a nutshell, the
l997 CITES Conference of the Parties will go down in history as a disgraceful
showing of acrimony, strong arm tactics, and deviousness, besides being a mega
conservation blunder. Nevertheless, the South African population of
elephants remained on Appendix I and that, at least, was some consolation.
Immediately, the message was out - elephants were up for grabs again. Illegal
ivory could again be "laundered" into the legal system; poaching escalated, as
did the stockpiling of illegal ivory, and this at a time when the elephant
populations had barely recovered from the previous onslaught. Furthermore,
many African range States were in a worsening state of political chaos with no
hope of adequate law enforcement; automatic weapons were easily procurable
and many wildlife authorities were impoverished and riddled with corruption.
More sinister still, there were those that embarked on a deliberate strategy of
covering up poaching incidents either to disguise their own shortcomings or
because they had vested interests in the illegal trade. In April 2000, The CITES
Conference of the Parties met yet again, this time in Nairobi, Kenya, amidst
conflicting and confused reports about whether, in fact, poaching for ivory was
responsible for the further demise of elephants, or whether, in fact, there had
been a reduction in numbers. The CITES Secretariat was quite openly biased in
favour of the Southern African pro-trade lobby and Kenya and India found
themselves alone in admitting a serious escalation in poaching and pressing for
the fully protected Appendix I listing to be reinstated. Other range States,
known to have been under poaching pressure, saw fit to again conceal the facts
for the same reasons as before; yet others were either "bought" or intimidated
and in the end a compromise emerged – a two year moratorium on the sale
of all ivory in exchange for the downlisting to Appendix II of the South
African population, thereby sanctioning the trade in all elephant by-products,
except ivory, butincluding live elephants. Yet again, the thorny question of
what is, and what is not, a suitable destination failed to be adequately defined.
Worse still, within just a month or two, Zimbabwe deliberately flouted the
Convention's ruling and went ahead with the sale of a large quantity of ivory to
China! Nor is there any doubt that in two years' time, the pressure to open the
Ivory Trade will be even greater, so the The Millennium Cites gathering will go
down in history as being a no-win situation yet again for the elephants. It would
seem that only when the Southern African populations are threatened with
extinction will the International Community respond by placing all ivory off
limits forever, since wealthy Southern Africa has more to offer the world in
terms of trade than other African range States.
Culling as a Management Option:- The only practical way of "culling"
elephant herds is to gun down entire family groups, first having immobilised the
Matriarch from a helicopter so that the family cluster around her, confused and
rudderless. The drug commonly used is scholine, banned for use on humans,
since it collapses the muscles causing total paralysis, yet leaves the victim fully
conscious. An anaesthetic would, of course, be far more humane, but it would
contaminate the meat and detract from its commercial value. Yet, no-one can
deny that an elephant cull is anything short of a brutal massacre that sickens
even the most seasoned men detailed to undertake this terrible task as part of
their conservation duties.
Significant, however, is the fact that artificial culling is undoubtedly seriously
flawed. With all age groups within the female herds still intact, and pressure off
the land by the removal of some, the breeding rate inevitably rises. Culling
therefore has to be ongoing and the problem of "too many elephants" is never
truly solved, serving, of course, the interests of the commercial trade. But,
culling as practised in Southern Africa is fundamentally flawed for another very
important reason, expediently overlooked. It deprives Nature of evolution's
most potent genetic tool - Natural Selection - something that can never be
duplicated by man. The survival of the fittest ensures the strength of the genetic
core of wild populations so that only the best genes perpetuate. Natural
Selection is the powerhouse of evolution, crucial to healthy stock, and vital for
adaptation in an ever changing habitat, for Nature is never static; it is a dynamic
and volatile force with evolution constantly at work. The term "Conservation"
has been defined thus by one of the world's most eminent ecologists, the late Sir
Frank Fraser Darling:- "Maintenance of the Energy flux is conservation –
reduction of it is the opposite to conservation".
No-one can argue that the removal of large numbers of elephant from the
environment for commercial purposes, is anything other than a reduction of the
energy flux and as such contrary to the fundamentals of conservation. Neither
should the contribution of the dead to the wellbeing of the living be overlooked.
A dead elephant feeds a great many predators for a long time, and the recycling
of its remains back into the environment returns nutrients to the soil from
whence they sprung, contributing to fertility. Even the tail hairs of a dead
elephant serve a useful function, plucked out by the birds for nests; bones are
chewed and scattered by predators, gnawed by rodents or weathered back into
the soil by the elements. A study done in Tsavo recorded 84,700 insects in just 3
kilos of elephant dung, so ponder for a moment the forces at work to recycle
what once was a living elephant. When nothing is removed from the habitat,
nothing is lost, and the environment is the richer for it.
The Tsavo Example:- The thorny issue of what to do about an over population
of elephants in a confined area continues to simmer. Attempts at birth control
through pill implants have proved problematical and are still in the experimental
stage. Who, in fact, is qualified to determine how many is too many, when there
are too many, and which ones should die? Only Nature can do this, and the
example is there within Kenya's Tsavo National Park, the only Park in Africa
where natural processes and vegetational progression has been allowed to
proceed to a natural conclusion devoid of human intervention. In Tsavo
elephant/vegetational cyclical patterns have been carefully monitored over time
and a natural elephant die-off that took place in the early seventies has been
scientifically documented. There man stood aside to look and learn rather than
to crash in clumsily where angels feared to tread.
The argument most commonly used to justify the large-scale killing of elephant
herds is that they destroy the habitat, threatening the survival of other life forms.
But, where is the evidence to support this premise? In Tsavo what at one point
in time appeared to be wholesale "destruction" of the woody plant community,
turned out to be something quite different. Nor did the predicted demise of
many species due to the activity of elephants occur - rather the reverse; the
habitat was improved and became more productive benefiting biodiversity.
There the ability of Nature to adjust elephant numbers was illustrated and the
reason for the female bonding within elephant society also became clear. Added
to this, human failings such as corruption and greed illustrated the pitfalls of
"commercial utilisation" of wild free ranging populations, where Nature
imposes its own controls through predation, disease, and food and water
availability, no provision allowed in the system for human predation on a
It so happened that Naturalists, as opposed to Scientists, were at the wildlife
helm at that point in time. They viewed things not in isolation, but as a whole,
since Naturalists do not specialise but consider the big picture. Sympathetic
handling of wild populations and compassion for the orphaned and injured is
not seen as a weakness but rather an essential element of sensitive conservation
husbandry. A Naturalist has the advantage of vision unblinkered by scientific
constraints and an intrinsic passion for wild unspoilt places where Nature and
natural processes rule supreme, and where wild animals enjoy a quality of
life untroubled by intrusive management. Naturalists understand that Nature
holds the answers to many puzzles and that humans should take the time to look
and learn rather than blunder in where angels fear to tread. Nature is complex
and every living organism, whether large or small, is intertwined contributing,
each in its own way, to the wellbeing of the whole. It has the ability to best
correct imbalances caused by artificial boundaries with species adapting to
change, and finding their own optimum levels within habitat conditions
prevailing at the time. What can exist naturally within artificial boundaries will,
and what can't, wont, such limitations being preferable to artificially
manipulated situations that impact negatively both on quality of life and the
sense of wilderness, quite apart from usually being too costly for Third World
resources. Above all, Naturalists bow to the significance of natural selection,
viewing it as a vital and necessary process that contributes to the wellbeing of
the species. After all, no one knows better than Nature as to who should live and
who should die.when the time comes. In other words, when it comes to intrusive
management, less is always best.
Tsavo National Park is 8,000 sq. miles in extent. It was established in l948, not
because of its wealth of wildlife, but simply because it was a large chunk of
country not suitable for either pastoral or agricultural purposes - an inhospitable
arid thirstland with an average annual rainfall of between just l0 and and 20
inches; its barren wastes tsetse infested "commiphora" scrub served by only two
permanent rivers; the malarial parasite and tsetse borne trypanosomiasis a
deterrent to both humans and domestic livestock. Grasses were sparse or absent
altogether beneath the dense entanglement of barbed scrub and sanseveria that
dominated at that time, and as a result water runoff during the wet seasons
produced flash flooding in sand luggas that lay dry for the rest of the year. Then,
the habitat favoured the browsing species such as elephant, and black rhino,
both of which were present in very large numbers, as were dikdik, lesser kudu
and gerenuk. Grazers were few and sparse, but diverse nevertheless. However,
the viewing of anything was severely restricted due to the impenetrable wall of
bush that gave way reluctantly to every trail.
By fortunate geographical accident, however, the Park just happened to hold a
greater variety of different species than any other Park in the world, for there the
northern and southern forms of fauna just happened to meet, doubling up on
common species. It harboured Peters Gazelle as well as the Common Grant, the
Somali ostrich along with the Masai, reticulated forms of giraffe merging into
obvious Masai patterning, and, prior to the great rinderpest epidemic of the late
l800's which decimated the ungulates, Greater kudu as well as the more
common lesser variety and even Sable.
In l948 when the Park first came into being, human pressure had yet to manifest
itself along the boundaries, so elephants roamed an ecosystem of l6,000 square
miles, twice the size of the Park itself. By the late l960's, however, human
expansion and good Park protection brought most of the 45,000 elephants of the
ecosystem within the Park's borders, and their impact on the environment
became glaringly evident. Damage to the woodland scrub trees at a glance did
appear catastrophic, but as the picture unfolded, it became clear that what was
first seen as "destruction" was, in fact, no more than a rather untidy phase of a
perfectly natural cycle in which scrubland was being recycled to make way for a
grassland regime which would benefit the grazers hitherto suppressed. Only the
elephant can trigger such change.
Inevitably, there was talk of "culling", but ivory related corruption endemic
within the higher echelons of Government called for caution. Furthermore, it
had taken the Park authorities the previous two decades to control the illegal
poaching of elephants within the Park boundaries by a traditional elephant
hunting tribe known as the Waliangulu who would surely have difficulty
rationalising why the authorities had the right to slaughter elephants when they
had been prevented from doing so. Equally as important was the fact that Kenya
was a leader in the psychological aspect of wild animals, and particularly of
elephants, so the humane angle was a major consideration. That elephants are
essentially "human" in emotion was already known as early as the fifties, (and
has recently been scientifically proved through a study of the components of
both human and elephant breast milk, both of which contain complex
olichosacharides that promote complex brain formation). Like us, elephants
"bury" their dead, covering a body with sticks and leaves; they grieve and
mourn a lost loved one as deeply as any human, returning to the remains to pay
their respects periodically, and for years afterwards. Like us, elephants
remember - in fact, they never forget, so they are constantly in touch with
friends and loved ones throughout their life.
As humans, we understand the trauma of death, and most of us are familiar with
grief. So, consider the grief wrought amongst elephants subjected to an annual
"cull"; the trauma of forever being stalked by the threat of death, of annually
mourning friends and family and never knowing who is next. It is unacceptable
to believe that only humans are worthy of compassion or that the world exists
simply for the benefit of mankind. We need a more holistic approach to Nature
and the other creatures that have evolved in tandem with us on this planet, all of
which fulfil a specific function within the environment.
Of course, The Wardens of the time had the benefit of the South African
example as well. They knew that with commercial culling inevitably come
Tanning and Meat Processing plants employing a work force that cannot easily
be dismissed; contracts and deadlines that have to be met and policy decisions
influenced by economics rather than environmental considerations, not to
mention the danger posed to visitors by traumatised and wounded animals too
fearful to stand for a photograph. Then there is the perennial problem of
corruption and greed creeping into the equation with disastrous results.
Fortunately, however, in Tsavo, the controversial "Elephant Debate" was
overtaken by events in l970 when a worse than usual drought hit the Park and
Nature stepped in to sort things out ahead of man. Subjected to stress due to the
shortage of food, natural adjustment of the birth rate began to inhibit
recruitment. The cows simply did not conceive. Furthermore, the oldest females
of the cow units, the Matriarchs, were the first to feel the affects of malnutrition
and as strength ebbed, they took the female family within easy reach of
permanent water. There conditions during drought conditions are inevitably
harsher, affecting all members of the female herd. Then came the quiet mass
die-off of selected female age groups throughout the entire population - a oneoff event that saw the loss of almost 9,000 mainly female elephants of specific
age groups. This created the generation gaps necessary to relieve the pressure on
the land, immediately plunging the elephant population into a long slow decline
which relieved the pressure on the land and made way for the regeneration of a
new generation of trees. These had, of course, been planted by the elephants
themselves in their long range wanderings, deposited far and wide in their dung.
The reason that Nature has ordained that female elephants stay bonded together
for life now becomes obvious, for in order to put a population into decline, it is
the breeding females that must be targeted.
It was all over within three months, at no cost, and with no disruption to other
wild communities - no profiteering - just a cataclysmic natural tragedy soon
obscured by the mists of time. Only the ivory was removed from the carcasses.
In a perfect world this too should have remained where it was, to be recycled
back from whence it came. The removal of females from the Tsavo population
set the stage for the elephants to achieve a natural equilibrium with the food
resource now available to them, bearing in mind that the population had been
swelled by unnatural immigration induced by human expansion.
This now poses a question. Surely, in this day and age of sophistication, it must
be possible to repeat a natural die-off artificially, using anaesthesia rather than
scholine and to remove a selected number of females of selected age groups, as
did Nature? A natural die off has to take place, at the most, only once in an
elephant's lifetime and this surely must be more humane than an annual cull.
Could mankind not sacrifice the meat once in an elephant's lifetime in the
interests of good conservation, particularly as there is an over-abundance of
domestic livestock badly in need of a cull for environmental reasons. These are
the issues that Science should be addressing and especially now that the lay
public are better informed about the nature of elephants. Inhumane handling of
elephants, and indeed all animals, is becoming anathema.
Elephants are essentially fragile; huge eating machines that require not only a
great quantity of vegetation in a day, but also a wide selection of different plants
including the bark of trees to provide the trace elements and minerals essential
for such a large frame. They are delicate in infancy and by design have been
equipped with a surprisingly inefficient digestive system, passing 6% protein in
their dung. Once denied the essentials in their diet, they weaken rapidly, which
forces them to retreat to sources of permanent water where conditions are
inevitably worse. Before all others, they are the first to feel the affects of
malnutrition, inducing a condition known as ketosis, which is a painless lethargy
caused by lowered blood sugar levels, even when there is food in the stomach.
What that food lacks, however, is the quantity and nutritional components
needed to maintain strength. The elephants become comatose, spending a lot of
time asleep, devoid of energy to move far from water. Inevitably, one day, they
simply cannot get up and then the end comes quickly and quietly. They die
surrounded by their loved ones who bring comfort and love right up until the
end, and who then have time to mourn as they "bury" their dead, comforting
each other in their bereavement. (It is this natural die-off that in the past gave
rise to the legendary myth of "the elephants' graveyard" when the bones of
many elephants were found near sources of permanent water).
Hot on the heels of the Tsavo die-off came the rampant poaching of the
seventies and eighties, and this pushed the population rapidly below the
optimum downward swing of the natural vegetational seesaw, foreshortening
the grassland cycle. This then is the only unnatural event in Tsavo, and one that
could impact negatively on the grazers in the long-term since they may not be
afforded the time they need to proliferate to the point when they can withstand
another woodland cycle. The woodlands are regenerating, and regenerating
rapidly, so Tsavo will revert to what it was like when the Park was first
proclaimed – dense scrub thicket. Thus, within just l5 years, Tsavo's once over
population of elephants became an under population threatened with
annihilation. The poaching was now fuelled by in-house greed and corruption
forcing the elephants to abandon huge swathes of the Park, too fearful to return
for the next 30 years. Ironically they sought shelter around human habitation
where the AK 47 and G3 wielding killers could not easily get at them, but this
created a different set of problems – that of the so-called "problem elephants".
Only the imposition of the Ivory Ban in l989 brought a reprieve and only now,
thirty years later, are the elephants beginning to venture back into the interior of
The role of Elephants is a very crucial one, crucial to the survival of many
other species both large and small. They are Nature's Bulldozers, their most
important function that of recycling the nutrients and trace elements locked in
wood, drawn up out of soil by tree roots over decades. Only when the trees
themselves are felled are these rare earths released back into the environment to
become available to other plant and animal life less well equipped. No other
animal can, for instance, recycle the precious minerals of the giant Baobab, a
long lived colossus extremely rich in calcium and trace elements. The debris of
trees felled by elephants shield pioneer grasses and shrubs from trampling; deep
rooted perennial grasses follow, the grazers proliferate and browsers decline.
Natural selection ensures that the gene pool is honed and that the strongest
survive in readiness for another thicket phase as elephant numbers fall. Then, if
the elephants can be adequately protected, their numbers will rise again in
tandem with the regeneration of the woodlands, and this then is the natural order
of events - a cyclical vegetational seesaw of woodland to grassland and back to
woodland inextricably intertwined with elephant numbers.
It is the elephants who create the trails that benefit all others, roads that not only
select the best alignment over difficult terrain, but also unerringly point the way
to water, acting as conduits for run-off rainwater directing it to the waterholes
and ensuring that they fill more surely and rapidly. Elephants create the
waterholes in the first place and enlarge them every time they bathe, carrying
away copious quantities of mud plastered on their huge bodies. The puddling
action of their giant feet seals the bottom against seepage, so that water lasts
longer in the dry seasons benefiting all life and relieving feeding pressures near
permanent sources. Elephants also have the ability to expose hidden subsurface
supplies buried deep beneath the sands of the dry riverbeds, making it
accessible to others by tunnelling at an angle with their trunks. Their sheer
weight compresses the sand bringing water closer to the surface as dozens of
elephants patiently await their turn to drink from these holes. Were the elephants
not there to fulfil this function, all water dependent species would not be able to
exist in such places - a case in point being the Tiva river in Tsavo, which
literally died faunally when the elephants left.
Elephants provide in other ways too, breaking down branches to bring browse
to a lower level, thereby making it accessible to the many smaller creatures that
share their world. By felling trees they create the space that allows seedlings to
take root and grow uninhibited by their parents' shadow. The very rapid
metabolism of an elephant ensures copious quantities of dung, the very life
support for the largest scarabs, who roll it into balls and bury it deep below the
ground, thereby enriching the soil. The dung also attracts the insects that
nourish a host of insectivorous birds, mammals and reptiles and because
elephants have such an inefficient digestive system, it is particularly rich.
The Future:- Tsavo provides an example of how Nature controls elephant
populations. Whilst the natural die- off of elephant and the build-up to it has
been well documented, unfortunately, no in-depth study of the subsequent
sequence of events was undertaken, simply because gun brandishing poachers
proved a deterrent. However, records and photographic evidence does exist
within the Sheldrick Trust's Archives making a retrospective study feasible.
One thing is sure, and that is that CITES which should have prevented the
demise of the elephant by controlling the trade has failed in its mandate. Instead
it has evolved into a political lobby bent on trade and the endangered species
have become mere pawns in a money game. In fact, in the past CITES agents
themselves orchestrated the laundering of illegal ivory into a stockpile in
Burundi, accepting bribes as a pay-off for the CITES stamp. Now, more than
ever, when the elephants are so very vulnerable, their social family fabric torn to
tatters, should the world SAY NO TO IVORY, no matter in what form. Each
and every one of us can, and should, at least do that. Every piece of ivory is a
haunting memory of a once proud and majestic animal, that should have lived
three score years and ten; who has loved and been loved, and was once a
member of a close-knit family akin to our own; but who has suffered and died in
unspeakable agony to yield a tooth for a trinket. Something so symbolic of
death and suffering can never be beautiful.
A True/False Quiz
Think you know something about elephants? Well here you
can test your knowledge about tusks and see why there’s such
an uproar about ivory. Ready?
True or false?
All elephants grow tusks.
False! All African elephants grow tusks, but only some male
Asian elephants have tusks. Some female Asian elephants have
very tiny tusks called tushes but no long tusks.
An Asian elephant. Photo Credit: Jayanand Govindaraj
No two tusks are alike.
True! In fact, researchers who track elephants use the
appearance of the tusks, along with the ears, to identify
If an elephant breaks a tusk it will grow back.
False! Tusks are teeth and just like our teeth, if one is broken, it
stays broken. But unlike our teeth, a tusk can continue growing
from the root if that isn’t damaged. It’s not unusual to see an
elephant with only one tusk because the other was injured to
the point that it stopped growing.
The tusk is the equivalent of our incisor teeth (the tooth on
either side of our two front teeth). It is made of ivory, a material
soft enough to be carved, which is the root of the poaching
All elephant teeth are ivory.
False! Only the tusks are made of ivory—an extremely dense
dentine covered with a carveable calcified rind called
cementum. The rest of the elephant’s teeth are made from
enamel, dentin and pulp, like ours.
Photo Credit US Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Lab
We can tell an elephant’s age by the length of its tusk.
True! As long as the tusk hasn’t been broken, it can reveal an
elephant’s age relative to other elephants of the same sex and
species. Because most of the elephants with the longest tusks
have been killed, their genes are no longer passed along. That
is one of the reasons authorities are confiscating shorter and
thinner tusks every year. Another reason: Since most of the
oldest bull elephants have been poached for their longer tusks,
poachers now are going after the females and the younger
males. This spells disaster for breeding herds.
One of the largest tusks ever found was about 10 feet long and
weighed over 200 pounds. Tusks can grow up to seven inches a
Kilimanjaro Tusks, ca. 1898
Most elephants are right- or left-tusk dominant.
True! Like humans, elephants have a preference over which
tusk they use for their primary jobs (such as breaking branches,
digging for water, ripping bark off trees). You can tell which tusk
is dominant by looking at it— the most-used tusk will be shorter
and rounder at the tip.
A tusk can be removed without killing the elephant.
False! In fact, a broken tusk, which is common, can lead to a
life-threatening infection. But poachers use darts, poison and
high-powered automatic rifles with night scopes to take
elephants down and, while they are dying, the tusks are
gouged out of from the living elephant’s skull. The elephants
die an agonizing, slow death from hemorrhage.
Like an iceberg, much of an elephant’s tusk is below the
True! Only two thirds of the elephant’s tusk is made of ivory
and is visible while the elephant is living. The base of the tusk
is embedded in the skull and made of pulp, blood and nerves —
like the roots of our own teeth.
Only elephants produce ivory.
False! Ivory can be taken from hippos, walruses, sperm whales,
horn-billed birds and even from fossilized mammoths. What
makes elephant ivory so prized is its softer carvability.
We can prevent poaching by dying or scarring the tusks
of living elephants.
False! Though many have proposed solutions like this, they are
impractical as elephants would have to be darted with
anesthetic or their watering holes infused with dye. Darting is
far from an exact science and can kill or maim an elephant.
Surface scars into the ivory could be repaired by sanding or, if
they are too deep, could cause infection. Placing chemicals in
the water supply risks poisoning the elephants and other
smaller animals who use the same source, but also doesn’t
solve the problem of making future growth of the tusk
There is an alternative to ivory.
True! Synthetic celluloid ivory (also called “French Ivory”) can
be crafted to the same standards as genuine ivory and its price
in China is less than 20% of real ivory.
A palm-like tree called Tagua gives us 7-20” nuts that can be
carved like ivory and are used for everything from jewelry to
umbrella handles—an inexpensive and renewable alternative.
A piece made from synthetic ivory. Source: Pin It
Tagua Nuts and carvings. Photo Credit Suzette Leith
And piano keys? Do elephants still need to die for those? No!
There are alternatives—such as plastic and resin—and evolved
musicians won’t use anything but non-ivory keys. Read what
Piano Man Billy Joel has to say about the subject here.
It is okay to buy and sell “antique” ivory items.
False! While some rationalize the market for old ivory by saying
“the elephant died years ago, so what’s the harm?” The truth is
that any market for ivory creates a demand for tusks, which is
leading to the rapid extinction of elephants. In fact, the more
“valuable” ivory is seen as being, the more likely it is that
people who can’t afford antiques will buy new ivory as an
investment. In addition, it’s hard to tell the age of carved ivory,
and new ivory can be artificially aged and papers forged about
when it was bought/sold, making import and export exceptions
for antique ivory a gigantic loophole that international traders
abuse to profit from their horrendous crimes.
Think of ivory as the new fur. Would you wear a fur coat—even
an old one? If you own ivory you can keep it; just don’t wear it
or sell it. Become part of the movement to remove ads for ivory
from sites like Google and eBay. If you live in the U.S., sign a
petition to ban ivory trade in your state here.
The United States has banned the sale of ivory.
False! The U.S. currently is the second largest market for ivory
in the world, with China being #1. In February 2014 a partial
ban on the import and export of elephant ivory was put in place
and is now in force, but sadly there are exceptions that permit
antique, noncommercial, and “personal use” import and export.
Just as bad, it continues to allow inhumane hunters to import
elephant heads as trophies. No, this is not the 18th century, but
it sounds like it, right?
There isn’t much you can do to stop poachers.
False! One of the more effective ways to stop elephant
poaching is to eliminate the market for ivory.
On October 4, 2014, The Global March for Elephants and
Rhinos is conducting worldwide educational marches about the
ivory trade in 105 cities worldwide. You can go to their site to
sign petitions to ban import and sale of ivory and you can find
more petitions at 96 Elephants.
You can use Twitter and Facebook to educate your friends and
family know about this issue and what they can do—including
never buying, selling or wearing ivory.
Finally, you can support organizations like Big Life that are
stopping poachers on the ground in Africa.
So, the truth about tusks? They belong on elephants…not
on us, not in stores, not on our walls, and not on the auction
Painting by Sarah Soward: Sarah Soward
ASIAN ELEPHANT AND AFRICAN ELEPHANT
Throughout history, the elephant has played an important role in human
economies, religion, and culture. The immense size, strength, and stature of this
largest living land animal has intrigued people of many cultures for hundreds of
In Asia, elephants have served as beasts of burden in war and peace. Some
civilizations have regarded elephants as gods, and they have been symbols of
royalty for some.
Elephants have entertained us in circuses and festivals around the world. For
centuries, the elephant’s massive tusks have been prized for their ivory.
The African elephant once roamed the entire continent of Africa, and the Asian
elephant ranged from Syria to northern China and the islands of Indonesia.
These abundant populations have been reduced to groups in scattered areas
south of the Sahara and in isolated patches in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast
Demand for ivory, combined with habitat loss from human settlement, has led to
a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the last few decades. In 1930,
there were between 5 and 10 million African elephants. By 1979, there were 1.3
In 1989, when they were added to the international list of the most endangered
species, there were about 600,000 remaining, less than one percent of their
Asian elephants were never as abundant as their African cousins, and today they
are even more endangered than African elephants. At the turn of the century,
there were an estimated 200,000 Asian elephants. Today there are probably no
more than 35,000 to 40,000 left in the wild.
At first glance, African and Asian elephants appear the same. An informed eye,
however, can distinguish the two species. An African bull elephant (adult male)
can weigh as much as 14,000 to 16,000 pounds (6300 to 7300 kg) and grow to
13 feet (four meters) at the shoulder. Its smaller relative, the Asian elephant,
averages 5,000 pounds (2300 kg) and 9 to 10 feet (3 meters) tall.
The African elephant is sway-backed and has a tapering head, while the Asian
elephant is hump-backed and has a huge, domed head. Probably the most
interesting difference between the two species is their ears. Oddly, the African
elephant’s large ears match the shape of the African continent, and the Asian
elephant’s smaller ears match the shape of India.
Elongated incisors (front teeth), more commonly known as tusks, grow up to 7
inches (18 cm) per year. All elephants have tusks, except for female Asian
elephants. The largest of the African bulls’ tusks can weigh as much as 160
pounds (73 kg) and grow to 12 feet (4 meters) long. Most animals this big,
however, are gone; they were the first to be killed for their ivory.
Most African elephants live on the savanna, but some live in forests or even
deserts. Most Asian elephants live in forests. As herbivores (plant eaters),
elephants consume grass, foliage, fruit, branches, twigs, and tree bark.
Elephants spend three-quarters of its day eating, and they eats as much as 400
pounds (880 kg) of vegetation each day. For this task, they have only four teeth
In the hot climates of their native habitats, elephants need about 50 gallons (190
liters) of water to drink every day. Elephants boast the largest nose in the
world, which is actually part nose and part upper lip. It is a large natural hose,
with a six-gallon (23-liter) capacity.
Role in the Ecosystem
Elephants are considered a Keystone species in the African landscape. They pull
down trees, break up bushes, create salt licks, dig waterholes, and forge trails.
Other animals, including humans, like the pygmies of the Central African
Republic, depend on the openings elephants create in the forest and brush and
in the waterholes they dig.
Even elephant droppings are important to the environment. Baboons and birds
pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts, and dung beetles reproduce in
these deposits. The nutrient-rich manure replenishes depleted soil. Finally, it is a
vehicle for seed dispersal. Some seeds will not germinate unless they have
passed through an elephant’s digestive system.
Wild elephants have strong family ties. The females and young are social,
living in groups under the leadership of an older female or matriarch. Adult
males are solitary, although they stay in contact with the females over great
distances, using sounds well below the range of human hearing. Family groups
communicate with each other using these low-frequency vibrations.
It is an eerie sight to see several groups converging on a waterhole from miles
apart, apparently by some prearranged signal, when human observers have
The natural lifespan of an elephant, about 70 years, is comparable to a
human’s.Elephants reach breeding age at about 15 years of age. Females
generally give birth to one 200-pound baby after a 22-month pregnancy.
Elephants and Humans
Humans first tamed Asian elephants more than 4,000 years ago. In the past,
humans used elephants in war. Elephants have been called the “predecessors to
the tank” because of their immense size and strength. They were important to
military supply lines as recently as the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
Although African elephants are harder to train than Asian, they too have
worked for humans, mostly during wartime. For example, the elephants that
carried Hannibal’s troops across the Alps to attack the Romans in 200 B.C. were
In modern times humans use elephants primarily for heavy jobs like hauling
logs. An elephant is the ultimate off-road vehicle and can get tremendous
traction even on slippery mud. An elephant actually walks on its toes, aided by a
great flesh-heel pad that can conform to the ground.
In some remote areas of Southeast Asia it is still more economical to use
elephants for work than it is to use modern machinery. Scientific researchers use
elephants for transportation in the hard-to-reach, swampy areas they study, and
tourists ride elephants to view wildlife in Asian reserves. Elephants are the
ideal mobile viewing platform in the tall grass found in many parks.
Asia has always had a strong cultural connection to the elephant. In Chinese, the
phrase “to ride an elephant” sounds the same as the word for happiness. When
Thailand was called Siam, the sacred White Elephant dominated the flag and
culture. According to Thai legend, in the beginning all elephants were white and
flew through the air, like the clouds and rain.
Thousands of years later, a white elephant entered the side of Queen
Sirimahamaya as she lay sleeping. Later she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha, the
future Guatama Buddha. Among the predominantly Buddhist kingdoms of
Southeast Asia, the most auspicious event possible during a monarch’s reign
was the finding of a white elephant.
Causes of Endangerment
Elephants need a large amount of habitat because they eat so much. Humans
have become their direct competitors for living space. Human populations in
Africa and Asia have quadrupled since the turn of the century, the fastest growth
rate on the planet. Forest and savanna habitat has been converted to cropland,
pastureland for livestock, and timber for housing and fuel.
Humans do not regard elephants as good neighbors. When humans and
elephants live close together, elephants raid crops, and rogue elephants
(aggressive male elephants during the breeding season) rampage through
villages. Local people shoot elephants because they fear them and regard them
Some countries have established culling programs: park officials or hunters kill
a predetermined number of elephants to keep herds manageable and minimize
Hunting has been a major cause of the decline in elephant
populations. Elephantsbecame prized trophies for big-game hunters after
Europeans arrived in Africa. More recently, and more devastatingly, hunters
have slaughtered elephants for their ivory tusks. The ivory trade became a
serious threat to elephants in the 1970s.
A sudden oil shortage caused the world economy to collapse, and ivory became
more valuable than gold. In fact, ivory has been called “white gold” because it
is beautiful, easily carved, durable, and pleasing to the touch. Most of the
world’s ivory is carved in Japan, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, where
skilled carvers depend on a supply of ivory for their livelihoods.
Hunting elephants is no longer legal in many African countries,
but poaching was widespread until very recently. For many the high price of
ivory, about $100 a pound in the 1980s, was too tempting to resist. Local people
often had few other ways to make a living, and subsistence farmers or herders
could make more by selling the tusks of one elephant than they could make in a
dozen years of farming or herding.
As the price of ivory soared, poachers became more organized, using automatic
weapons, motorized vehicles, and airplanes to chase and kill thousands
of elephants. To governments and revolutionaries mired in civil wars and
strapped for cash, poaching ivory became a way to pay for more firearms and
Poaching has caused the collapse of elephants‘ social structure as well as
decimating their numbers. Poachers target the biggest elephants because their
tusks are larger. They often kill all the adults in the group, leaving young
elephants without any adults to teach them migration routes, dry-season water
sources, and other learned behavior. Many of Africa’s remaining elephant
groups are leaderless subadults and juveniles.
There are many national parks or reserves in Africa where elephant habitat is
protected. Many people believe, however, that the parks are not large enough
and are too isolated from each other to allow elephant populations to recover.
(See Island Biogeography). Some countries are developing refuges linked by
corridors to allow seasonal migration and genetic exchange.
Human use of the same land to grow crops, however, makes it difficult to create
linkages between reserves without increasing conflicts between humans
Sometimes reserves are too successful. When there are too many elephants in a
reserve for the available vegetation, they destroy the habitat. They also forage
outside the park and destroy crops.
One factor that has convinced African governments to take strong measures to
protectelephants is the rising importance of the tourist trade to their economies.
Kenya alone receives $50 million a year from tourists coming to see elephants.
The national parks bring in much-needed income, and tourism is a source of
income that can continue into the future because it does not deplete wildlife
Worldwide concern over the decline of the elephant led to a complete ban on the
ivory trade in 1990. Elephants have been placed on Appendix I of CITES, the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which means all
trade in elephant parts is prohibited. Some governments have cracked down
hard on poachers. In some countries, park rangers are told to shoot poachers on
Not all governments support the ivory ban. In Zimbabwe, South Africa, and
Botswana, for example, people farm elephants on ranches for trophy hunters.
Government officials argue that trade in ivory should be regulated, not
prohibited. They say countries that are managing their elephants well should be
allowed to sell ivory in order to pay for conservation measures, such as park
guards and equipment.
Others argue that the only effective solution is a total ban, because there is no
way to distinguish ivory of elephants that were legally killed from that
of elephants that were poached. The debate over the effectiveness, fairness, and
wisdom of the ivory ban continues.
Asian ivory craftspeople are turning to other sources of raw material for their
carvings. Some are turning to walrus tusks instead of elephant ivory, shifting
hunting pressure to walruses.
Captive breeding of African elephants provides elephants for zoos so zoos do
not have to take more elephants from the wild for display. The Jacksonville
Zoological Park has established a Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the African
Questions for Thought
Do you find it odd that a species that still has hundreds of thousand of
individuals is considered endangered?
Why do you think elephants are regarded as endangered?
Which elephant’s chances for survival are better, the African or the Asian? What
factors lead you to this conclusion?
Do you think banning trade in ivory affects other species?
If the ban on trade in ivory is successful in stopping poaching, do you think the
elephant’s survival is assured? Is your answer the same for African and Asian
Are reserves the solution to the problem of habitat loss? What else could or
should be done?
What Is It About an Elephant's Tusks That Make Them So
Chinese demand for ivory is driving conflict in the Democratic Republic
R E B E C CA J . RO S E N
SEP 6, 2012
Chinese demand for ivory is driving conflict in the Democratic Republic
In Garamba National Park in the northeastern corner of Congo,
thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their tusks, their
carcasses discarded like hair clippings on a barbershop's floor.
In a beautiful and brutal report, New York Times reporter Jeffrey
Gettleman describes the carnage, both animal and human, in harrowing
detail. Last year, he writes, "broke the record for the amount of illegal
ivory seized worldwide, at 38.8 tons (equaling the tusks from more than
4,000 dead elephants). Law enforcement officials say the sharp increase
in large seizures is a clear sign that organized crime has slipped into the
ivory underworld, because only a well-oiled criminal machine -- with the
help of corrupt officials -- could move hundreds of pounds of tusks
thousands of miles across the globe, often using specially made shipping
containers with secret compartments." (Although there are many sources
of ivory such as walruses, rhinoceros, and narwhals, elephant ivory has
always been the most highly sought because of its particular texture,
softness, and its lack of a tough outer coating of enamel.)
What in the world could fuel such demand for animal teeth? An
ascendant Chinese middle class, whose millions can now afford the
prized material. According to Gettlemen, as much of 70 percent of the
illegal ivory heads to China, where a pound can fetch as much as $1,000.
"The demand for ivory has surged to the point that the tusks of a single
adult elephant can be worth more than 10 times the average annual
income in many African countries," Gettlemen writes.
This explains the mechanics. Demand rises, price goes up, and the costs
poachers and smugglers are willing to endure increase in sync. But what
underlies the demand? Why do so many Chinese people want these
elongated cones of dentin?
The comparison to diamonds is commonly made: Diamonds, like ivory,
are a natural substance with little inherent value but prized social
significance. Desire in richer lands tumbles poorer societies into
resource wars and labor abuse. And certainly the modern dynamics are
the same. But demand for ivory is something demand for diamonds is
not: ancient. And its history as a technology, a material with few peers
for centuries, propels this demand even today.
Diamonds, as a cultural symbol, are an invention of the 20th century, the
result of a collaboration between Mad Men and De Beers. Ivory, in
contrast, has been used and valued for millennia. In China, according
to Ivory's Ghosts by John Frederick Walker, artistic ivory carvings exist
from as far back as the sixth millennium BCE, excavated in Zhejiang
Province. "By the Shang Dinasty (ca. 1600-ca. 1046 BCE) a highly
developed carving tradition had taken hold," he writes. Specimens from
this period are today in museums around the world.
But ivory wasn't solely prized for its aesthetic value. Ivory's properties -durability, the ease with which it can be carved, and its absence of
splintering -- uniquely suited it for a variety of uses. Archaeologists and
historians have recovered many practical tools made out of ivory:
buttons, hairpins, chopsticks, spear tips, bow tips, needles, combs,
buckles, handles, billiard balls, and so on. In more modern times we are
all familiar with ivory's continued use as piano keys until very recently;
Steinway only discontinued its ivory keys in 1982.
What do many of these things have in common? Today we make them
out of plastic, but for thousands of years, ivory was among the best, if not
the very best, option -- the plastic of the pre-20th-century world. For
some of these items (piano keys being the most prominent example) we
didn't have a comparable alternative until very recently. Walker writes:
Synthetic polymers had been in widespread use on keyboards since the
1950s but found few fans among serious pianists. In the 1980s Yamaha
developed Ivorite, made from casein (milk protein) and an inorganic
hardening compound, which was trumpeted as having both the
moisture-absorbing quality of ivory and greater durability. Unfortunately
some of the first keyboards cracked and yellowed, requiring refitting
with a reformulated veneer. Clearly there was room for improvement.
Steinway helped fund a $232,000 study at Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute in Troy, New York, in the late 1980s to develop a superior
synthetic for keyboard covers. In 1993 the project's team created (and
patented) an unusual polymer -- RPlvory -- that more closely duplicated
the microscopically random peaks and valleys on the surface of ivory that
allow pianists' fingers to stick or slip at will.
That usefulness, combined with its warm luster and its receptivity to
engravings, meant that it gained stature as a luxury good from the getgo. China's demand for ivory today shows the staying power of a luxury
symbol, even if a substance's inherent qualities have been superseded by
Where does that leave the elephants of Garamba National Park, their
poachers, the smugglers, and a rising China? Is there a way to remarry
ivory's cultural significance to its material one, to instill the idea that
ivory is nothing more than an animal's tooth?
The power of the idea of ivory is immense, and shows no signs of waning.
For the elephants that bare them, perhaps the only hope is that the price
will go up and up, through greater regulation and greater monitoring,
putting ivory once again out of reach for even the middle class. The irony
of this is that the side effect of the best way to staunch the flow of ivory
and the slaughter of elephants may be the reinforcement of the cultural
myth: Make ivory even rarer, even more reserved for only the very few,
and esteem for it will only rise.
J U M P TO CO M M E N TS
Beloved African Elephant Killed for Ivory—"Monumental" Loss
Popular with tourists, Satao fell to poachers May 30, group says.
By Christine Dell'Amore, National Geographic
PUBLISHED JUNE 16, 2014
Satao drinks at a water hole in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, in
2013, when the magnificent tusker was in his prime.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK DEEBLE AND VICTORIA
One of Kenya's most adored elephants, who had giant tusks and was
known as Satao, has been killed for his ivory—a "monumental" loss,
Poachers shot the bull elephant with a poisoned arrow in Tsavo East
National Park, waited for him to die a painful death, and hacked off
his face to remove his ivory, according to the Tsavo Trust, an area
nonprofit that works with wildlife and local communities.
Satao was particularly appealing to poachers as a tusker, a type of
male elephant with a genetic makeup that produces unusually large
tusks. His tusks were more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) long.
"Kenya as a country contains probably the last remaining big tuskers
in the world," said Paula Kahumbu, a Kenya-based wildlife
conservationist with the nonprofit WildlifeDirect. (Read Kahumbu's
essay on Satao's death in the Guardian.)
"To lose an animal like Satao is a massive loss to Kenya. He was a
major tourist attraction to that part of Tsavo," said Kahumbu, who
was a 2011 National Geographic Emerging Explorer .
The elephant was killed May 30, but members of the trust announced
his death on June 13, after verifying the carcass's identity. (Related:
"Efforts to Curb Ivory Trafficking Spreading, but Killing Continues .")
"It is with enormous regret that we confirm there is no doubt that
Satao is dead, killed by an ivory poacher's poisoned arrow to feed the
seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in far-off countries," the Tsavo
Trust said in a statement.
"A great life lost so that someone far away can have a trinket on their
mantelpiece." (Read "Blood Ivory" in National
Satao was killed by poachers and his face was hacked off in Tsavo East
National Park in May 2014.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK DEEBLE AND VICTORIA STONE,
"Massive and Hostile" Expanse
Satao died despite his high profile, which brought special protection.
"It's also a reflection on the situation in Kenya that even in a place
where all efforts are made to protect the elephants, it's still very
difficult to protect them," Kahumbu said. (Watch video: "Elephants
For the past 18 months, the Tsavo Trust and the Kenya Wildlife
Service have been monitoring Satao's movements by air and on foot.
"When he was alive, his enormous tusks were easily identifiable, even
from the air," according to the Tsavo Trust.
Satao generally kept to a predictably small area with four other bull
elephants. But in search of food following big rains, he had recently
moved into a boundary of the park that's a known poaching hot spot,
especially for hunters with poisoned arrows. (Also see: "Poachers
Slaughter Dozens of Elephants in Key African Park .")
Authorities noticed this and protection efforts were stepped up, but
the area Satao entered "is a massive and hostile expanse for any
single anti-poaching unit to cover, at least one thousand square
kilometers [about 390 square miles] in size," according to the Tsavo
"Understaffed and with inadequate resources given the scale of the
challenge, [Kenya Wildlife Service] ground units have a massive
uphill struggle to protect wildlife in this area." (Related: "In War to
Save Elephants, Rangers Appeal for Aid .")
Post by THE TSAVO TRUST.
About 472,000 to 690,000 African elephants likely roam the
continent today, down from possibly five million in the 1930s and
1940s. The animals areclassified as vulnerable by the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature .
Conservationists estimate that 30,000 to 38,000 elephants are
poached annually for their ivory, which is shuttled out of West
African and, increasingly, East African seaports en route mainly to
China and other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand. (See a
graphic of elephant poaching in Africa .)
The whereabouts of Satao's tusks are unknown, but Kahumbu said
that they are likely on their way to being exported.
"What worries me is we're seeing increasing amounts of ivory moving
through Kenya, and it's a real indicator of the corruption," she said.
Kenya has a history of dealing with celebrity elephants.
"One of the most powerful messages that Kenya ever made was when
the first president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, gave presidential
protection to an elephant [named Ahmed] because of the size of his
tusks," she said. (Read about how China and other countries are
crushing their ivory stocks.)
"He died of old age because he had two armed guards with him 24-7,"
Kahumbu said. "This is the kind of measure our president Uhuru
Kenyatta needs to do," Kahumbu emphasized.
"If we fail to protect these elephants, we lose the gene pool of big
tuskers forever in Africa."
TV & Film
TRENDINGFIFAQUEEN'S SPEECHCHARLIE CHARLIE
CHALLENGEJED ALLENSAVE ABI
The elephant slayer: Butchery of poacher who killed more than
SEVENTY elephants and inadvertently helped fund terrorism
09:53, 5 FEBRUARY 2014
BY TOM PARRY
To dirt-poor Kenyans like John Sumokwo, 33, it is just a heartless way to
make a bit of quick cash – no matter where the big profits end up
A Kenyan poacher has boasted how he brutally slaughtered more than
70 elephants for their valuable tusks.
John Sumokwo, 33, is part of a sickening £12billion-a-year ivory trade
which isfunding terrorism – and endangering the species.
It has been dubbed “the white gold of jihad” – and the brutal slaughter of
African elephants for their ivory is helping extremists to bankroll jihadists
around the world.
The sickening trade is said to be worth around £4.5billion to some of the
most feared international groups, including those linked to the ruthless
But to dirt-poor Kenyans like Sumokwo it is just a heartless way to make
a bit of quick cash – no matter where the big profits end up.
The convicted poacher boasted how he has butchered more than 70
elephants for their tusks – selling them on to shadowy dealers for a
fraction of what they can fetch on the black market.
He described how he speared the magnificent beasts through the heart
before hacking off their trunks, skinning their heads and cutting off the
ivory with an axe.
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror
Interview: Sumokwo, 33, speaks with Mirror man Tom Parry
Sumokwo’s revelations come just days before Britain hosts world
leaders for an international summit on how to combat the barbaric
killings and end the illegal trafficking.
Motivated by the massive demand for ivory trinkets and jewellery in
China and the Far East, poachers like Sumokwo, 33, are bringing the
world’s elephant population to the brink of extinction.
So great is the threat, British troops from the Parachute Regiment have
been training Kenyan wildlife rangers involved in fighting back.
Sumokwo, who was finally caught red-handed after running an ivory
poaching gang for a decade, was released from prison two months ago
after serving just over a year behind bars. But he showed little remorse
as he recalled his kills in horrific detail.
“I remember the way the elephants scream when they die,” said the
father of six, vibrating his tongue against the roof of his mouth to imitate
“When I killed the elephants, the others would shout. They were
“They would run around looking for ways of defending the one I had
attacked. I remember one young calf saw me kill her mum.
“She ran off for protection from other animals. My attacks were so
frequent that the elephants could not mate and have calves. There were
not enough male bull elephants left.
“To me, this was just business – I didn’t think about it any other way. The
buyer gave me money and then sold it off to the big syndicates in
Horrific: Elephant butchered for 'white gold'
With his primitive weapons, Sumokwo slaughtered one in seven of the
elephants in the idyllic Lake Kamnarok Game Reserve.
We spoke to him in the town of Kabarnet, high above the Kerio Valley,
which were his killing fields.
Shielded by dense vegetation, the valley floor was once a place where
herds of elephants roamed undisturbed. Now there are only 500 left.
He explained: “We killed them with spears. They were extremely sharp. I
would always have two spears because if you did not kill the elephant
with the first one he would try to kill me.
“Elephants are not easy. If they see you they can run after you and kill
you. I was chased several times, but I got more experience.
“I knew exactly where to put the spear. It has to go in near the heart, and
then the elephant dies immediately.
“I would climb up a tree and I would wait for them to come to that area to
graze. I studied their movements, so I knew exactly where they went.
“The more I killed the longer it would take to get the next one because
the elephants would remember where I hid and go a different way. As
they approached, other men in my gang would push the animals and
kick them, so they came in my direction.
"We targeted the old bull elephants because they have the longest
Valuable: Ivory recovered from poachers being sorted by
Sumokwo said he and his gang were paid £80 a kilo for the ivory – about
£9,600 for an average bull elephant.
In China the tusks can fetch more than £2,000 a kilo. It is this massive
profit margin that has led to the involvement of terrorist organisations.
Andrea Crosta, of pressure group the Elephant Action League said ivory
trafficking funded “up to 40% of the cost of al-Shabaab’s army of 5,000
He estimated the jihadists made up to £365,000 a month from ivory
alone. The tusks Sumokwo hacked off with an axe were sold in
Mombasa – then some will have been sold on to al-Shabaab. The terror
gang last year killed more than 60 people in the Westgate mall massacre
White Widow: Samantha Lewthwaite
A key figure among the jihadists is White Widow Samantha Lewthwaite.
The mum of four, from Aylesbury, Bucks, is the widow of one of the 7/7
bombers, and is wanted for seven murders in Kenya.
The lethal combination of wildlife destruction and terrorism is the reason
50 world leaders have been invited to next week’s London Conference
on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Prince Charles and Prince William are also due to attend. Yesterday
Foreign Secretary William Hague, who will chair the conference, said:
“We know that the trade feeds corruption and organised crime and
creates regional instability.
“I know that the challenge we face is significant and that the threat is
highly organised and ruthless. But it can be defeated and we can
reverse the decline in species. I am determined we do so before it is too
Recent figures estimate the worldwide illegal wildlife trade is worth a
total £12billion each year – making it the fourth most lucrative illegal
activity behind only drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
Kenyan organisation Wildlife Direct has described the trade as being
“the same as the previous blood diamond crisis in West Africa”.
Analysts believe terrorists are ultimately behind a surge in poaching
which has seen up to 60,000 elephants and 1,650 rhinos killed in the last
two years. Last year a record 41 tonnes of illegal ivory was seized – the
highest total in 25 years. Britain too is experiencing the terrorist-driven
boom in illegal ivory.
Last year a specialist UK Border Force team seized 80.7kg at British
airports, compared with just 3.3kg in 2010.
Professional Somalian gangs have been using night-vision equipment to
strafe large herds of elephants in Kenya and Tanzania with assault rifles.
Kenya’s elephant population has plunged from 167,000 30 years ago to
just 30,000. In Africa, there are now just over half a million, compared
with three to five million in the 1930s.
Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror
Convicted: Poacher Sumokwo was released after just over a
Poachers such as Sumokwo will now face life sentences for killing
endangered animals, as part of crackdown which came into force a
But animal welfare charity International Fund for Animal Welfare believes
much more needs to be done to stop warlords sending bandits with
AK47s to get ivory to fund more weapons.
Charity official Evan Mkala said: “Ivory poaching is war. Wearing ivory
kills human beings as well as elephants.
“This whole business is something the world can do without.”
What you can do
Ahead of next week's summit in London on the illegal wildlife trade, the
International Fund for Animal Welfare asked the British public to donate
any unwanted ivory items so they can be removed from the marketplace
and destroyed. There is still time to donate to the charity. If you have
unwanted ivory please call IFAW on 020 7587 6700. To find out more
about IFAW's essential work and how you can get involved
Poachers in Zimbabwe have killed more than 300 elephants and
countless other safari animals by cyanide poisoning, The Telegraph has
The full extent of the devastation wreaked in Hwange, the country's
largest national park, has been revealed by legitimate hunters who
discovered what conservationists say is the worst single massacre in
southern Africa for 25 years.
Pictures taken by the hunters, which have been obtained exclusively
byThe Telegraph, reveal horrific scenes. Parts of the national park,
whose more accessible areas are visited by thousands of tourists each
year, can be seen from the air to be littered with the deflated corpses of
elephants, often with their young calves dead beside them, as well as
those of other animals.
There is now deep concern that the use of cyanide – first revealed in
July, but on a scale that has only now emerged – represents a new and
particularly damaging technique in the already soaring poaching trade.
Zimbabwean authorities said that 90 animals were killed this way. But
the hunters who captured these photographs say they have conducted a
wider aerial survey and counted the corpses of more than 300.
China imposes one-year ivory ban on eve of Prince William
27 Feb 2015
Help stop slaughter of elephants, David Attenborough tells Xi
23 Feb 2015
South African rhino poaching deaths nears 1,000
19 Dec 2013
Chinese man caught smuggling ivory from Zimbabwe
25 Oct 2013
Kenya to microchip every rhino's horn
16 Oct 2013
Mugabe buses in African wildlife for UN summit ‘propaganda’
28 Aug 2013
The fun and easy way to learn a new language
Sponsored by Babbel
Poachers killed the elephants over the past three months by lacing
waterholes and salt licks with cyanide. Animals are drawn to them during
the dry season in the already arid and remote south-eastern section of
the 5,660-square mile park.
After the elephants died, often collapsing just a few yards from the
source, lions, hyenas and vultures which fed on their carcasses were
also struck down, as were other animals such as kudu and buffalo that
shared the same waterholes.
Zimbabwe's authorities say the cyanide has been planted by villagers
who sell the elephants' tusks for around £300 each to cross-border
traders. They can be resold in South Africa for up to £10,000 a pair,
according to court papers relating one recent incident, sometimes reemerging as carved artefacts such as bangles in Cape Town's craft
Zimbabwe has one of Africa's biggest surviving elephant populations,
since herds in neighbouring regions of Eastern and Central Africa have
been severely damaged by poaching, and half of the country's estimated
80,000 elephants are thought to live in Hwange.
Conservationists say the African elephant is so much under threat from
habitat loss, conflict with humans and illegal poaching and hunting that
on present trends it could die out within 50 years.
In 2011, at least 17,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks
according to Cites, the international body that focuses on endangered
species. Ivory is highly prized as a "white gold" in Asian countries where
a growing middle class is seeking safe investments, and United Nations
wildlife experts say the trade in illegal ivory has more than doubled since
The poisoning was first uncovered by a European hunter and his
Zimbabwean guides who spotted a dead cow and her calf as they flew
over the park in a helicopter.
As they flew lower they saw scores more. The corpses of endangered
white-backed vultures which had fed on the toxic carcasses were dotted
near each dead elephant.
"We couldn't believe our eyes," one hunter, who did not wish to be
named for fear of reprisals from poachers, told The Telegraph. "We
thought at first that they must have been shot. There were too many to
have died of thirst or hunger."
They flew back to camp and drove into the park after alerting
government rangers as they went. "We found that elephants we saw
from the air were not shot, but the tusks were gone," the hunter said.
His group spotted a man walking into the park carrying a four-gallon
bucket and a packet. They watched him dig a hole for the bucket in the
sand, lower it in and then mix powder from the packet into the water.
Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife Authority sent investigators and
police to the area, where there are normally few patrols. The water was
discovered to contain cyanide – available cheaply for use in informal
gold mining that is conducted locally.
After further investigation police arrested eight men from a village in the
Tsholotsho district which borders the park, along with a number of fellow
officers who were allegedly bribed to ignore the poachers, and a Hararebased cyanide distributor to whom more than 100lbs of the poison were
traced. So far, 14 people have been arrested since the first poisoning
As news of the killings spread, the Zimbabwean authorities took usually
swift and harsh action – putting captured poachers before the courts
where they were given sentences of up to 16 years in prison along with
When Saviour Kasukawere, Zimbabwe's environment minister, visited a
village just outside the park two weeks ago she was told that the
poachers had acted out of desperation as their crops had failed and
tourism fees from hunters and safari operators had dried up.
Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe's National Parks,
said 10 more poisoned elephants were found last week, none of which
had been dead for more than three weeks, suggesting that the poisoning
had not stopped.
She said she was "surprised" by the report that 300 elephants had died,
but conceded that ZimParks only begun its own aerial survey last week.
"We did find that (looking for carcasses) is more efficient from the air,"
Police have discovered tusks near a railway line which passes through
Hwange and last week found more, hidden in a concealed compartment
of a luxury bus on the way to South Africa.
Some of the carcasses have now been burned, Mrs Washaya-Moyo
said, but others had been kept for further investigation.
Mrs Washaya-Moyo said they were struggling to persuade those in
custody to identify the organisers. "It is a pity that they all seem so
reluctant to identify the big people involved, as ivory, like the rhino horn,
is not used in Zimbabwe. It is used by foreigners," she said.
Tom Milliken, programme leader for the Elephant and Rhino Traffic
network, a conservation organisation, said he was "astounded" by the
scale of the killings. "This is the largest massacre of elephant in this part
of the world for the last 25 years," he said.
"This (use of buckets of water) is seductive for elephants at this dry time
of year when they're looking hard for water. Cyanide is a new weapon
Tim Snow, a South African expert on wildlife poisoning, said the
emergence of cyanide in poaching was "really scary".
"Quite apart from these elephants' deaths, what about all the other
animals using that water source and scavenging from those corpses?
The knock-on effect must be horrendous," he said.
Cyanide has not been used in poaching before because in most
countries it is strictly controlled and its use in agriculture had been
phased out, he said.
"In Zimbabwe, because of the challenges they are facing, I would
imagine it's a free for all," he said. "If this is a gold mining area then
that's where the investigators should be looking. If controls are not put in
place, its use could become rife."
Conservationists say ZimParks needs 10 times the number of rangers it
currently has to be able to prevent cyanide from being used again.
Thys de Vries, one of Zimbabwe's best known professional hunters and
conservationists, said: "There are some very good people out there but
they are short of resources and need help."
Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade, and they
could be mostly extinct by the end of the next decade. An estimated 100
African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat
and body parts, leaving only 400,000 remaining. An insatiable lust for
ivory products in the Asian market makes the illegal ivory trade
extremely profitable, and has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of
African elephants. Between 2010 and 2014, the price of ivory in China
has tripled, driving illicit poaching through the roof. If the elephants are to
survive, the demand for ivory must be drastically reduced. As of 2011,
the world is losing more elephants than the population can reproduce,
threatening the future of African elephants across the continent. Bull
elephants with big tusks are the main targets and their numbers have
been diminished to less than half of the females. Female African
elephants have tusks and are also killed, which has a terrible effect on
the stability of elephant societies, leaving an increasing number of
orphaned baby elephants.
2013 [saw] the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years”
The Asian elephant, whose habitat ranges over 14 countries across
Asia, is an endangered species with less than 40,000 remaining
worldwide – less than a tenth of the African elephant population. Wild
Asian elephants suffer severe habitat loss in some of the most densely
human-populated regions on the planet. Their traditional territories and
migration routes have been fragmented by development, highways and
industrial mono-crops such as palm oil and rubber tree plantations,
which has destroyed millions of hectares of forest ecosystems. With no
access to their natural habitat, elephants are forced into deadly
confrontations with humans where neither species wins. Asian elephants
are also poached for their ivory tusks, meat and body parts while baby
elephants are captured from the wild and sold into the tourism industry.
Worldwide, Asian elephants are trained, traded and used for
entertainment in tourist parks and circuses, and also for illegal logging
activities. These captive elephants are often mistreated, abused and
confined to sub-standard facilities without adequate veterinarian care.
I have spent hours and hours watching elephants, and come to
understand what emotional creatures they are…it’s not just a species
facing extinction, it’s massive individual suffering.”
– Dr. Jane Goodall
Elephants and humans share a long history throughout our civilization.
The expanse of the African habitat and the enormous size and
aggressive posture of the African elephant has allowed it to resist
captivity. But the Asian elephant has lived alongside humans for over
4,000 years and is imbued with reverence, tradition and spirituality
across many cultures. In Thailand, the elephant is a national icon: it has
a national holiday designated in its honor and elephants can receive a
Royal title from the King.
Yet while elephants have lived alongside humans for so long, there is still
much we don’t know about them. With the largest brain of any land
animal, they are smart, sentient, social and empathetic, qualities we
strive for ourselves. We share so many characteristics with elephants
that they may well be more like us than any other animal. But we are
risking their future and, in the process, damaging the integral habitat
required for biodiversity throughout Asia and Africa.
Elephants are a keystone species. It means they create and maintain the
ecosystems in which they live and make it possible for a myriad of plant
and animal species to live in those environments as well. The loss of
elephants gravely affects many species that depend on elephantmaintained ecosystems and causes major habitat chaos and a
weakening to the structure and diversity of nature itself. To lose the
elephant is to lose an environmental caretaker and an animal from which
we have much to learn.
Without elephants there will be major habitat changes, with negative
effects on the many species that depend on the lost habitat.