Poaching Elephants for Ivory
African Elephant Mikumi National Park, Tansania
Demise of Elephants
I recently watched a National Geographic show on TV about elephants, and while I learned a wealth of information, I was shocked at the volume of elephants killed for their ivory.
In 1997, there were 13 million elephants, but in 2007 the elephant population is between 472,000 and 690,000. Most of that ivory seemed to make its way to China, and it is quite expensive to purchase. This slaughter is happening primarily in African countries, and while it is against the law it is difficult to catch the thieves.
Facts on Elephants
Elephants are endangered animals for a variety of reasons. Their habitat is dwindling due to man, and their habitat is becoming hotter, which means drier conditions and less available food. This is particularly tough on the calves. Poaching for ivory is growing and a major problem, particularly in Africa.
These social animals are huge, as males are 10 to13 feet tall, up to 30 feet long from the tail to the trunk and weigh from 6,000 to 15,000 pounds. Their lifespan is about 70 years. The calves weigh about 200-225 pounds at birth. Elephants have deep family bonds and the females stay together for life.
The herd is led by the oldest and usually largest female of the herd, called the matriarch. Older elephants teach the young. The whole herd protects the newborn calves. The males leave the herd between the ages of 12 to 15 years, and they lead solitary lives or sometimes they may live temporarily with other males.
Raised Trunk is a Warning
More Elephant Facts
Another interesting fact is they communicate when they produce sub-sonic rumbles that travel over the ground faster than sounds travel through the air. They can hear through their feet as their skin is sensitive on their feet and on their trunks. They flap their big ears to control the temperature of their body.
They are intelligent, and their memories span many years. This memory is what allows the matriarch to lead the herd for miles to find water in the dry months. They mourn the loss of a member and never forget where the loss occurred. Elephants play, show joy, show grief and anger.
Over the past 10 years the African elephants are showing fear and run from men without provocation. They will have secretions from their temporal scent glands, which are a sign of fear. This is due to the vast number of poachers, and the death of so many elephants.
Elephants in Africa
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified the African elephant as endangered, with good reason. More than 56 percent of elephants live in southern Africa, and poaching is now becoming a bigger problem in that area and also in eastern Africa.
Prior to this time the bulk of the poaching was done in central Africa. Poachers are killing elephants by the tens of thousands for their ivory. In 2012, 200 elephants were massacred in Cameroon by poachers. The largest game reserve in Africa is the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania where 30,000 elephants were killed last year. Poachers are even killing younger elephants that have much smaller tusks.
Babies Protected in the Middle of Group
Poaching Elephants for Ivory
In 2011, President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya set fire to five tons of contraband ivory as a symbol of their commitment to ban the killing of the elephants. They wanted to demonstrate to the world their serious concern about the fates of these great mammals. Unfortunately, he did make a statement, but it did not stop the poaching. Kenya has wild life rangers that are licensed to shoot to kill if they cannot stop poachers with weapons.
Due to automatic weapons and some poachers even own helicopters, poaching is over-all well organized, and it is difficult for authorities to control. In 1989, international ivory trade was officially banned by the Convention in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which did close some of the ivory markets. However, it did not stop poaching and some African nations see ivory as bringing economic benefit to their country.
Chinese Demand for Ivory
The price has tripled over the past year for raw elephant tusks in China. The purchasing power in China has is growing the demand for ivory. The Chinese see ivory as a status symbol, and love to own make beautiful hand carved statues, jewelry, chop sticks and even middle class Chinese families often own pieces of ivory art. They also like to have carved ivory Buddha. There is every reason to think diplomats and the Chinese government is involved in ivory trade.
There are 136 retailers that have permission to sell ivory products, but the shops sell ivory illegally are plentiful. There is a current investigation of the Beijing antique mall as they found 20 shops selling ivory illegally.
Orphan Elephants at David Sheldrick Animal Orphanage, Kenya
When I was a child my father traveled for business and went to Aruba. At that time ivory was available and used for many things, such as piano keys and billiard balls. My father bought some carved ivory pieces for my mother, which I have pictured below. He had the little village shipped, and unfortunately some pieces were broken when it arrived. It is still beautiful.
The Elephant Whisperer
He bought 5,000 acres of pristine bush in the heart of Zululand, South Africa," transforming a rundown hunters' camp (dating to the 19th century) into a wild animal preserve. Excellent book.
Certainly the carved ivory pieces are beautiful, but at what cost? We did not consider their slaughter back when I was a child.
It is heart breaking that so many thousands of elephants are slaughterd for their ivory and maybe a bit a meat. One has to wonder if elephants will still be roaming the earth 25 years from now
© 2013 Pamela Oglesby
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