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“Genocide” is the word Richard Ruggerio often uses to describe the crisis. Dr. Ruggiero is Chief of International Wildlife Conservation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
It is a genocide, indeed, when we consider that poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants from 2010 to 2012, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, with one in 12 elephants killed in 2011.
The elephant population in Tanzania’s world famous Selous Reserve has plummeted by 67 per cent in just four years. And, there were 1.2 million African 2 elephants in 1980 but only 420,000 in 2012—a staggering loss of 780,000 elephants.
Are these inauspicious figures a harbinger of extinction? Some leading experts feel they are not. Others feel extinction is imminently near. This briefing was begun as an inquiry into the crisis faced by the African elephant, particularly the question of their extinction and will provide the reader with a fundamental understanding of the crisis. Yet, all of the data and statistics about the crisis, which we will consider in this briefing, would be out of context should we not first discuss the sublime personality of those who are its victims. Doing so may help demonstrate the gravity of the crisis and the terrific loss it presents.
The Nature of Elephants
It is unnecessary in this briefing to discuss our subject zoologically. It may be helpful, however, to discuss their nature in a rather unscientific manner so that the uninitiated reader, those who have not spent time around elephants, will begin to appreciate their majestic charm.
Far from emotionless, they posses intelligent, distinct and varied personalities, fully alive with feelings like our own. And so, with an array of subtleties and nuances we tend to claim as uniquely human, elephants effortlessly share emotions such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control as an unconscious response. It is their nature.
For instance, when a cow gives birth to a female calf, the two never part; doing so would be unthinkable because their feelings for one another are far too tender. Wherefore, grandmothers, mothers, daughters and granddaughters remain inseparable for all their lives. And thus, a nurturing, unquestioned matriarchy prevails in which the eldest cow teaches those who are younger important lessons such as where to find water, food and safety.
The bulls, by contrast, begin to roam freely after reaching the age of 12 or 15 years. Their tusks may grow to eight feet in length or longer, a pair weighing 400 pounds or more. They use them for a variety of needs from shaking food from a tree, helping a fallen friend to his or her feet and fighting. Fighting among themselves is not uncommon. Quintessentially noble, they are willing to fight valiantly for one another, as well. Bulls are eminently protective of the cows and calves, at times unwilling to turn away from any challenger, not even their singular predator— humans.
The calves are involuntarily affectionate, overflowing with hilarious play and perfected innocence. Touching, caressing and even holding one another’s trucks in a gentle intertwining, as we might hold hands, is a life-giving need as they mature. And, as with a human baby, even maternal and paternal gesticulations are critical for their full development from infancy to adolescence and to adulthood. To be sure, without these kindred interactions they are unable to easily survive.
These tight knit families may roam together over great distances without harming other animals as they forage for their vegan diet of grass, roots, fruit and tree bark. They live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rainforests of Central and West Africa and the Sahel Desert in Mali.
Thailand, Viet Nam, the Phillippines, Indonesia, China, the Asian communities of the United States and others comprise the market. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Chad, Cameroon, Tanzania and others are the suppliers. We will, however, focus principally upon the worst offenders: China and Tanzania.
China’s population is estimated at 1.3 billion, which is approximately19 percent of the world’s people. Yet, they only posses around 7 percent of the world’s arable land and have few natural resources. This imbalance, mixed with 7 their dynamic manufacturing economy, creates an unquenchable demand for imported oil, timber, cooper, minerals and more. Much of these demands have been met in Africa. Indeed, China has unmistakably colonized Africa with well over one million Chinese nationals migrating there to manage the procurement and logistics of their colossal exports.
In their Forbes article, Siege of Africa, Bansal and Suri claim that “The Chinese ‘invasion’ of Africa is veritably the biggest state-run investment in the last decade. They are everywhere. State-run Chinese firms are building bridges, roads, telecom networks, airports, and generally boosting the infrastructure all around. In return, they are getting access to natural resources.” Their $9-billion agreement in Congo is an example in which China has agreed to build roads, rail networks, hospitals and schools for the right to mine cobalt and copper.
This virtual Sino conquering of the African continent has, it seems, engendered feelings of entitlement, which in some cases has degraded to a rapacious quest to plunder. Of course, they must import natural resources to maintain their socio-economic status; yet, they do not need elephant tusks to do so.
Nonetheless, a significant portion of Chinese, living in China and abroad, feel that elephant tusks are nothing more than a commodity. “In every shop and 9 factory I visit in China, a substantial portion of the inventory consists of religious carvings, including many of the most valuable pieces. Among the high-end buyers are military officers—surprisingly well paid in China—who give ivory to superior officers and companies that give carvings to other businesses and government regulators to influence them. ‘We call it the back door,’ a representative of the government’s China Arts and Crafts Association (CACA) explained. And so ivory is used the way a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue might once have been, except that if the gift works, then ivory blesses its giver as well as its recipient.
“At a gallery in Guangzhou, Gary Zeng shows me a photo of a 26-layer ‘devil’s work’ ball on his iPhone. The 42-year-old Zeng has just bought two of these ivory balls from the Daxin Ivory Carving Factory, one for himself and one on behalf of an entrepreneur friend. He’s come to this retail store to see whether he got his money’s worth. I climb into his new Mercedes, drive to his double-gated community, and watch as he hands the less expensive ball to his three-year-old for National Geographic’s Brent Stirton to photograph. It will become a centerpiece in a new home Zeng is building, to “hold the house against devils,” but for a moment the $50,000 ball is simply a very precious toy. I ask Zeng why young entrepreneurs like him are buying ivory. ‘Value,’ he replies. ‘And art.’ Do you think about the elephant? I ask. ‘Not at all,’ he says.”
This feeling, that ivory is a commodity, is reinforced by ancient culture, superstition and ignorance among its people, many of whom believe that elephant tusks are potent amulets and potions. Even religion has such an influence. “Buddhist monks perform a ceremony called kai guang, the opening of light, to consecrate religious icons. “Ivory is very precious,” Xue tells me, “so to be respectful of the Buddha one should use precious material. If not ivory then gold. But ivory is more precious.” This ambivalence to the horrific suffering of 11 elephants seems to contradict Buddhistic teachings of reverence for all living things, to which 18 percent of China’s population are adherents.
Ironically, many are unaware that ivory, a euphemism for elephant tusks, in fact, comes from elephants. Some are unaware that elephants are brutally killed—often butchered alive—to obtain the tusks; and others, who know it comes from elephants, think elephants are unharmed when the tusks are taken, assuming it regrows after extraction.
Consequently, (1) the Chinese colonization of Africa, providing ready access to tusks, (2) the feeling of entitlement to take all that is wanted from their African colonies and (3) the cultural superstitions and ignorance of hundreds of millions of Chinese, drives this systemic industrialized acquisition.
Vividly illustrating the Chinese problem is an incident that occurred in March of 2013 when the General Secretary of the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, arrived in Tanzania on an official state visit. When he left, his presidential plane was loaded with elephant tusks. “The trip was Xi Jinping’s first foreign tour as head of state. Traders told the group that similar ivory sales took place on an earlier trip by China’s former President Hu Jintao.”
The Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) surreptitiously gained information from two tusk traders about the presidential visit. The traders revealed to EIA investigators that, “sales boomed when a large entourage arrived during a visit to Tanzania by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping in March of 2013. The large Chinese government and business delegation on the visit used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased. The two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilos of ivory later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane.” One trader said that the local price doubled to $700 (US) per kilo during the presidential visit.
Since China’s “paramount” leader, as he is called, brazenly used the people’s presidential plane to smuggle elephant tusks, which is an egregious crime in China, Tanzania and a violation of international law, then all Chinese nationals are essentially given implicit permission to follow his example.
The Devastating Effects of the Demand
The devastation of elephants:
Let’s take a closer look at how this plunderous demand from China has devastated one elephant range country alone—Tanzania.
According to Mary Rice, Director of the EIA, Tanzania’s elephant population was estimated to be 142,788 in 2006. Yet, Rice says that, “In 2009 it was estimated that the elephant population in Tanzania decreased to about
Rice reports that even in Tanzania’s Selous ecosystem, which is a World Heritage Site, the “elephant population fell by 66% in just over four years from 38,975 in 2009 to 13,084 in 2013, the lowest ever recorded since 1976. In the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, also in Tanzania, a population decline of 37% has been recorded from 31,625 in 2009 to 20,900 in 2013.”
Of course, we must remember that 65% of all Africans elephants have been lost since 1980. It is little wonder that Richard Riggerio refers to the elephant’s plight as “genocide.”
The devastation of the ecosystem:
Furthermore, subtracting forest elephants from the ecological equation harms the astonishing local diversity of flora, a significant carbon-sequestering region of the Earth. For, gardening is a by product of the forest elephant’s lifestyle. They are, possibly, one of the world’s most prolific natural gardeners.
As they roam through the forests, creating trails that other animals depend upon, they eat and deposit a plethora of seeds over hundreds of acres. New trees and plants that keep the forest healthy and contribute to fresh air, spring up from their numerous dung piles. Their movements within the forest also maintain salt-rich forest clearings, critical feeding areas for many animals, including gorillas.
But there has been a cataclysmic disappearance of forest elephants, from 322,000 in 2002 to only 80,000 in 2013, a 76% decline. This mass murder affects their behavior, of course.
They now avoid roads not protected by rangers. Once wide-ranging, and free, many families are isolated, afraid to venture into their former domains. As a result, they are no longer prodigious gardeners. And so, the forests and all who live within them suffers.
They are also blocked from vital food, mineral and water resources necessary to maintain their health. Now, they must spend more time seeking food; and perhaps, there is little or no time for play, leisure or tender affections amongst their tight knit tribal clans.
It is a heartrending tragedy, indeed, when cows are killed for, in such cases, nursing calves often endure a lingering death of starvation. Those younger elephants who survive an attack in which their parents are killed, nonetheless, suffer debilitating trauma. For, without patriarchal, matriarchal examples from which they learn essential survival habits, adolescents flounder and infants have little chance at all. As we recall our discussion of the Nature of Elephants, it is no surprise that many calves, and probably adults, die from a broken heart.
The devastation of the economy:
Tourism provided one in twenty jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, contributing over $100 billion in 2014. And, The World Bank predicts that tourism will directly employ 6.7 million people in this region by 2021.
As many as 38 million tourists visiting Sub-Saharan Africa each year make this possible. And, seeing exotic animals in the wild is of keen interest to most of them, particularly the iconic elephant. This is why their loss has a tremendous impact on Africa’s economy.
“Wildlife and tourism in Africa are interdependent,” says Jena Gardner, cofounder of the Bodhi Tree Foundation, which seeks to unite tourism professionals to save African wildlife.
With no wildlife to view, travelers will almost certainly disappear and subsequently, safari lodges and African tour operators will probably disappear, too. Millions of people employed directly or indirectly in tourism may lose their jobs. Local communities, many of which depend upon on revenue from safari lodges, will presumably become impoverished and, thus, protection for the remaining wildlife will likely vanish, as well, followed by the wildlife, itself.
Tom Bawden, of UK based The Independent, reports disturbing news about the suppliers in his February 5, 2015 article titled, Corrupt officials and Chinese gangs destroy Tanzania’s elephant population. Bawden says, “Chinese criminal gangs are conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic vast quantities of ivory, according to an alarming investigation, which finds that the trading is so pervasive it even involves high-level diplomatic visits.”
Bawden claims that “Tanzania has lost half of its elephants in the past five years and two-thirds since 2006, mostly to poaching. This has left the country with an elephant population of just 50,500, making it by far the world’s biggest victim in the ivory trade. At the other end of the trade chain, China is the biggest consumer as the rapidly growing middle-class population seeks ivory as a status symbol.”
On March 22, 2014, Martin Fletcher of The Mail on Sunday, another UK based newspaper, reported his findings after an investigation into the Tanzanian tusk trade. “This is the world’s largest ivory stockpile. More than 34,000 tusks weighing roughly 125 tons are stored in the warehouse behind the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in Dar es Salaam [Tanzania]. They would be worth about £150 million on China’s black market.” At today’s currency rate, this equals $228 million.
Fletcher reports that, “The country is easily the world’s biggest exporter of this illicit ‘white gold.’” One might question if Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete is in the export business. Shortly after assuming his presidential duties in 2005, the Selous Game Reserve alone had approximately 70,000 elephants. Now that number is about 13,000.
The Mail on Sunday asked “how the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister could shake the hand of Jakaya Kikwete, the Tanzanian leader who has presided over such a slaughter.” It was also reported that, “Many politicians, officials and well-connected businessmen were active accomplices in the illegal ivory trade, and that there was corruption from top to bottom.”
It is no surprise, then, that as long as President Kikwete and his ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, are in power, few arrests will be made for trafficking; and, of those few arrested, probably none will be convicted.
The Poachers and Traffickers
Poachers are the hunter-killers and are most commonly local residents who use weapons which vary from rocket launched grenades, machine guns, spears and poison. Yet, some are equipped with even more sophisticated equipment and use helicopters to surprise a family of elephants with intense spotlights while the herds are sleeping at night. Assaults increase during a full moon providing poachers with increased visual abilities. While the elephants are dying in agony from multiple gun shot wounds, it is regretable to report that the poachers mercilessly hack off their faces with axes in order to extract a few more inches of tusk.
Even the calves are sometimes killed if they have tusks. The calves who survive often cry while touching their mother with their trunk and eventually die from shock, starvation or attack from predators. The precious few who are rescued are often inconsolable, unable to eat or sleep and die from the trauma of losing their families.
National Geographic reported that one of the largest elephant slaughters occurred during January 2012 in Cameroon in which, “a hundred raiders on horseback charged out of Chad into Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjidah National Park, slaughtering hundreds of elephants—entire families—in one of the worst concentrated killings since a global ivory trade ban was adopted in 1989. Carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they dispatched the elephants with a military precision reminiscent of a 2006 butchering outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park. And then some stopped to pray to Allah. They killed more than 300.”
Forest elephants, rather than savanna elephants, are especially prized for the unique quality of their tusks. One of the largest studies ever conducted in the central African forests revealed that 62 percent of the forest elephants have been killed.” As we have seen, these figures have been validated by the most recent 28 study which indicates that forest elephant populations plummeted shockingly from 2002 to 2013 by 76%.
The poachers are usually paid around $45 per pound and are disconnected from the organized syndications that receive as much as $1,000 per pound at final destination markets. A joint UN and INTERPOL study conducted in 2013 concluded that revenues from elephant tusks brought almost $200 million to these crime syndicates and this fantastic profiteering is sometimes intertwined with terrorism and geo-political destabilization.
“The Lord’s Resistance Army—a vicious guerilla group led by the infamous Joseph Kony—appears to be the biggest offender and the poaching has helped to breathe new life into the militant group. ‘Ivory has injected new blood into the LRA, which was nearly on its last legs in 2014,’ Sasha Lezhnev, Associate Director of Policy at the Enough Project, which recently released a report regarding poaching, told FoxNews.com. ‘The LRA is one of the groups chiefly responsible for the poaching, along with Congolese army commanders and South Sudanese poachers.’
“The LRA was [more than] decimated in 2012-13—the number of its fighters was one-tenth that from a decade before—so it needed a new lifeline. Ivory trafficked through Sudanese-held territory, as well as gold and diamonds, has provided that lifeline and is a chief source of financing for the LRA.”
GPSE has received reports from extremely reliable sources, which have requested anonymity, confirming the involvement of Al Shabaab and the LRA. They also confirm the above findings that poaching is funding armed conflict, terrorism, and transnational organized crime. Militant groups such as Al Shabaab and the LRA may be using proceeds from poaching to help fund their operations. These transnational criminal organizations manipulate fragile regions by enabling corruption through the use of vast sums to bribe park rangers and government officials, effectively undermining rule of law and stability. But it doesn’t stop there. Trafficking elephant tusks in the local range countries creates a rippling effect, destabilizing international regions, as well. It’s a global problem requiring a global solution.
We have a good idea of where the tusks are originating, their distribution channels and destination. “DNA tests on large ivory seizures over the last five years have shown the vast majority is sourced from two areas: Tanzania’s Selous Reserve and Central Africa’s Congo Basin rainforest. Almost all of it ends up in large, consolidated stockpiles at the ports of Mombasa [Kenya], Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar [both Tanzanian cities].”
Adding Fuel to the Fire
Even amidst the ongoing genocide, hunters are granted permission by range states and various governments around the world to kill elephants. “And the figures obtained by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) indicate that more elephants are legally killed by US hunters than are poached in some African countries.”
The US Fish and Wildlife Service allows hunters to kill two elephants per year and import parts of their bodies as so called “trophies”. Of course, under these guidelines, hunters could kill many elephants for it is only the importation of body parts that is regulated. And, John Jackson III, Chairman and President of Conversation Force, a Louisiana-based hunting advocacy group, says, “About one thousand hunters received a permit to kill elephants [annually].”
Again, there is no limit on the number of elephants killed, only the number of importations into the US. So, how would these numbers increase should we include results of hunters from other countries? It is easy to see how “sport” hunting does, indeed, kill more elephants than poachers in some range states as the IFAW suggests.
But mindful of the disturbing facts we have considered thus far in our inquiry, we must ask why anyone would wish to exacerbate the genocide by hunting down and killing more of its victims. Are some of these hunters merely, “spiteful, as if for some strange reason they couldn’t stand to see a wild thing so natural, so unafraid, and apparently so happy?”
Hunters argue that culling is needed to prevent overpopulation. This is presently a nonsensical argument since deaths outnumber births. Yet, even in conditions in which populations were growing, culling has become an antiquated method of population control, which deprives the world of one of it’s most regal creations. Jon Herskovitz discusses a much more intelligent approach.
“Kwa Zulu-Natal province, in the southeast, is looking to expand a project running for more than a decade where elephants populations have been controlled by injecting cows with a vaccine that triggers an immune system response to block sperm reception. Testing of the vaccine, administered by dart and requiring an annual booster, has been conducted at 14 small reserves. Studies have shown it is reversible, nearly 100 percent effective and has no adverse impact on elephant health or behavior.”
Hunting also posses an ecological conundrum. “Scientists from the Universities of Stirling, Oxford, Queensland and the Wildlife Conservation Society warn that current hunting trends in Central African forests could result in complete ecological collapse. The authors maintain that the current rate of unsustainable hunting of forest elephants, gorillas and other seed-dispersing species threatens the ability of forest ecosystems to regenerate, and that landscape-wide hunting management plans are needed to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”
Nevertheless, without considering the ecological impact, hunters argue that an elephant’s body can feed a village. And so, about one million metric tons of bush meat is eaten each year, the equivalent of 9 billion quarter pounders. Much of this is elephant meat supplied by hunters. The affinity for elephant meat has been generational in may cases. Thus, Africa’s natural heritage is being slaughtered and eaten.
This cavalier attitude is illustrated by a recent article in The Atlantic, in which it is reported that a Zimbabwean game farm owner “has pledged two elephants, two buffalo, two sable antelopes and five impalas for a giant barbeque at [President of Zimbabwean] Robert Mugabe’s birthday party this weekend [February 15, 2015] . . . ” Once again, we have another head of state flagrantly 40 eating elephant bushmeat, implicitly giving many others license to do the same.
Hunting and killing an elephant is easier than maintaining a cattle herd. Yet, this leads to a cycle of hunger, malnutrition, disease and desperation. In many cases no refrigeration exists and, therefore, much of the meat rots before it can be safely eaten. Even after consuming the meat that remains edible, they are still deprived of essential vitamin and minerals. To break this cycle, hungry villagers must learn to plant crops to satisfy their nourishment. Crops could also be traded or sold at market for other needs. Should hunters wish to help such villagers, they could invest a fraction of what they spend on hunting to provide agrarian lessens for them.
Another common argument of hunters is that hunting spurs the economy. This is debatable. For in the long term, the absence of elephants brings fewer tourists, which sends local economies in a down spiral from which it is difficult to recover. Then locals are tempted from desperation to poach. So, it is by far, more economically beneficial to never hunt elephants for this imperils the livelihood of locals.
Simply stated: killing elephants kills the economy. Whereas, photo tours, sight seeing tours and other types of touring boosts the economy in the short and long term. Jimmy Marle, a member of the Sudanese regional wildlife force says, “I assure my people of South Sudan: let us not look at oil only. Well maintained wildlife has the potential to generate enough revenue for the State, County and Payam.”
John Jackson, III says his hunting organization, “funnels benefits to local people in programs in which they participate as decision-makers. In those cases, the tourist safari hunters donate sums to Conservation Force and we put it to work for the community.” Jackson claims to have built 58 schools and 12 medical facilities in Tanzania.
But Peter LaFontaine of IFAW disagrees. “We found that only about three percent of the hunting revenue actually goes to local community development,” IFAW’s LaFontaine says. And “almost none of the money spent on expeditions accrues to local communities. Instead, it remains with the (mostly foreign) tour outfitters and travel companies, in urban centers, central government agencies and, often, bribes for officials.”
LaFontaine argues that ecotourism, like photographic wildlife safaris, is more practical—and lucrative—than sport hunts. In Botswana, for example, “ecotourism is 12 percent of GDP. It’s astonishing. Nowhere does sport hunting account for a significant amount of GDP, and only a very small fraction of total tourism revenues.”
Hunters continue the debate by referring to crops or villages destroyed by elephants. In many cases, locals have taken over a herd’s grazing land so it is only natural that herd members wish to continue roaming and eating where they have done so for many generations. Should elephants be blamed for such human intrusions? Yet many are killed for this reason. Rather than killing them, villagers and farmers can repel elephants by spraying then with cayenne pepper, a harmless, natural repellent. Many other simple remedies are available, as well.
Virtually all hunters claim that killing elephants is a sport. A sport, however, typically demands eye-hand coordination, peripheral vision, stamina, speed, agility, mental fortitude and—a worthy opponent; yet killing an elephant requires none of these. Neither dexterity nor keen marksmanship is needed. For, there is none, if any, athleticism required to ride in a range vehicle, walk only a few yards in some cases and shoot a large, nearby target. What victory is won? What emotional gratification is derived from destroying an opponent who possess no ability to win?
Finally, we ask a question which may be the strongest of all arguments against killing elephants for sport; it was posed by an old farmer in a colloquialism which, it is hoped, accentuates its meaning, “Who give you rights to go ’round takin’ such beauty an’ joy out of the world?”
Unprecedented Human Encroachment
The answer to the question asked by the sage farmer is fatuously obvious to conservationists. Yet, it is most likely a debate point without merit to those Africans who lack literate cognitive skills, of whom there are many. Literacy is only 63% in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 10 countries with the lowest recorded adult literacy rates throughout the world, 9 are in Africa.
And, “With 30% of its population suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, Africa has the highest percentage of undernourished people in the world.
It seems they would be keen to practice birth control. But, the Population Reference Bureau reports that women in Sub-Saharan Africa currently average 5.2 children during their lifetime. In some African countries, such as Niger, the birth rate is as high as 7.6 children per woman. This is in sharp contrast to European women who average 1.6 children and North American women who average 1.9 children.
So, for all these reasons, Sub-Saharan Africans would probably answer the question posed by the wise old farmer by replying, “We’re hungry.”
This is a superficially logical answer yet also representational of their unwillingness to satisfy their hunger with long term agricultural planning. As we have suggested, it is much easier to kill a national treasure than tend crops.
Such recalcitrance will not change, we fear, as Sub-Saharan Africa’s population exponentially geometricizes over the next few decades.
“A new report predicts that sub-Saharan Africa will record the world’s largest population growth between now and 2050. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world’s poorest region will more than double in population, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion.
“‘Africa’s population explosion has the potential to zoom past current estimates’, said Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based non-profit group.
“‘Sub-Saharan Africa has, without a doubt, the greatest population growth potential of any region,’ said Haub. ‘The projection today is that it will increase by about two and a half times. But the important thing to remember is that even that projection assumes that the birth ate in sub-Saharan Africa will decrease. And in many of those countries today, it [has] not.’” Consequently, the population 49 could exceed their projection of 2.4 billion by 2050.
“Cairo, Kinshasa and Lagos are the only megacities in Africa in 2014, but three more are expected to emerge by 2030, as Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Johannesburg (South Africa), and Luanda (Angola) are each projected to surpass the 10 million mark. The number of large cities with populations between 5 and 10 million in Africa is also expected to increase, from three in 2014 to twelve in 2030.”
Another report predicts that, “in 2010, over 800 million people lived in sub-Saharan Africa and the numbers are projected to increase to 1.2 billion in 2025 and nearly 2 billion in 2050.”
These projections are only slightly more comforting. Yet, are they also including an invalid component to their equation—declining birth rates which have not occurred—as Carl Haub suggested?
“Sub-Sahara Africa has the highest youngest population in the world. Over 44% of the population is under 15 years old. A younger population creates different problems to an ageing one as the population is growing. A rapidly increasing [younger] population puts an increased demand on facilities and resources such as food, housing, schools and hospitals.”
“Africa accounted for only 9 per cent of the world’s population in 1950, but by the end of this century about 40 per cent of all humans (and nearly half of all children) will be African, heralding one of the fastest and most radical demographic changes in history . . . While every other continent is seeing a slower rise in births, or even a decline, UNICEF projects that 1.8 billion babies will be born in Africa over the next 35 years, and the total African population will nearly quadruple to about 4.2 billion by the end of the century.”
Researchers at the University of Washington report that these dire findings are due to, “an average birth rate of 5.2 children per African woman and generous aid handouts from developed countries, which some researchers argue have artificially sustained rapid growth rates which would naturally be kept in check by diseases and famine.”
Typically, industrialization and the growth of large cities impede birth rates. Higher living standards which, in turn, create more wants and greater expenses from raising children also curtails births. Increased literacy and higher learning does so, as well. Yet, a huge population does not automatically cause 55 any of these; nor does a city—necessarily. The word city implies a degree of functional organization, which may be too lacking in some Sub-Saharan cases to reduce births. For, although big cities exist presently in the Sub-Saharan, we haveseen that 30% of its population, nonetheless, suffers from malnutrition. Clean water became less available to 63 million people or 24% of the population from
1990 to 2011. And, 37% of the population is illiterate. , which implies that the 56 reading 67% may not posses the higher cognitive skills to adequately address the approaching misery.
How will these figures change amidst this eruption of humanity? If such misery exits there now, what will happen when there is twice as much hunger, disease and ignorance?
War has been a societal staple of Africa for centuries and there are several waging there presently. Will war simply intensify and be waged on a grander scale? Will these overburdened countries fight for water and arable land?
In the thick of this survival strapped chaos, what priority will be relegated to elephants by semi-literate, hungry, bushmeat-eaters as their hordes spread to the ranges?
And so, more fuel is poured upon the genocidal fire, already industrialized by China, the population of which will also explode.
In the game of chess, to interpose is to place a pawn or piece between an attacked king and the attacking piece. An ineffective interposition, or useless interpose, ultimately wastes a player’s turn and one or more of his pieces, as well. Ultimately, it does nothing to protect the king.
Similarly, placing a plan between elephants and traffickers that does not work is an ineffective interposition.
With appropriate humility, some examples of these noble efforts have been included to illustrate what has been tried unsuccessfully. By doing so, we do not focus on the negative; neither in any way are we ridiculing those who have genuinely tried to help. Rather, we genuinely grateful for these efforts and are merely eliminating options as a chess player might eliminate ineffective moves.
• Increasing Status From Threatened to Endangered – While this change needs to be made, it will, of course, have no effect on trafficking, poaching or hunting for bushmeat; and, according to Janine Van Norman, Chief of the Branch of Foreign Species of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it will only impose prohibitive restrictions on “sport” hunting but not stop it.
• Interception at Trafficking Routes – Since we can identify the origins, distribution channels and ports through DNA sampling, it seems that the solution is interception at these routes. Yet, the many avenues of exit from range countries and their porous borders make this logistically impractical.
• Law Enforcement – Another seemingly obvious solution is enforcement of local laws. Yet, as we have seen, the ruling party in Tanzania, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi seems to give sub rosa approval to trafficking. We have also seen how the Secretary General of the Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, has given tacit approval of trafficking to Chinese nationals by “loading” the people’s presidential plane with elephant tusks in a March 2013 state visit to Tanzania.
Even our greatly respected rangers, the noblesse oblique of all conservationists, have been hampered, not from lack of bravery or abilities, but singularly because they have been routinely ill-equipped and micro managed by governments that are often corrupt.
• Providing rangers with better support and equipment – once again, this is a mute point for they are often micro managed by politicians who collude with traffickers.
• Removal of Tusks – This has been attempted unsuccessfully. Poachers kill them even for the little portion of remaining tusk that surgical removal leaves in place. This is a quantitatively, logistically impractical solution. It is also painful and cruel. They need their tusk for defense, helping family members who may have fallen and many other uses.
• Replacing Poaching with Tourism – This has been considered since it would increase local revenue; yet, traffickers would still seek tusks and poachers would still be out to make easy money.
• Cutting Off Foreign Aid – This would motivate the local citizenry to poach out of desperation.
• Sending in Tactically Sophisticated Para Military Teams – A group of prior military civilians attempted to protect the elephants in Tanzania. These men were former members of elite special forces units. Yet, the Tanzanian government placed so many restrictions upon them that they were unable to use tactics needed to engage poachers.
• Awareness Campaigns – These are excellent for activism, of course, and, in general, are to be applauded. Many have became involved in the crusade to save elephants because of them.
Here are recent results from awareness campaigns in China:
“There was a 51.5 percent increase in those who believed that elephant poaching is a problem: 70.6 percent in 2014 compared to just 46.6 percent in 2012.
“The surveys found a 44.8 percent increase in those who believed that elephants were poached for their tusks: 47.8 percent of respondents in 2014 compared to only 33 percent in 2012. Residents believing tusks are obtained only from natural elephant mortality fell from 33.8 percent in 2012 to just 10.5 percent in 2014.
“95 percent of residents agree that the ‘Chinese government should impose a ban on the ivory trade to help stop the poaching of elephants in Africa.’”
Perhaps, this is the threshold of change.
However, can we attribute these propitious figures solely to awareness campaigns? Don’t they also represent independent reports made by the media, word of mouth, organized protests and other means of awareness? So we must ask, how effectively do awareness campaigns from the West influence a 5,000 year-old oriental culture embraced by billions of people of the East? Moreover, what do these figures truly represent?
For, the specter of death still rises with the Sun on 30,000 to 50,000 elephants each year.
Once again, those who orchestrate these campaigns are doing a noble deed. Yet, we ask with sincere respect, what is their value when measured on the ground, through the eyes of the elephants?
• The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – Karl Amman, a wild life film maker asks, “Is it more about a lot of international travel attending back-slapping conferences and meetings with five-star hotel accommodation and lots of shopping, than it is about curtailing the illegal trade in wildlife?” He continues by describing CITES as a “toothless tiger which will not bite.”
We do not necessarily agree. Yet, at the same time, we must ask why CITES failed to stop the genocide and control trafficking. We feel that CITES may provide what could be useful, conceivably even essential, data. Nonetheless, the genocide appears to continue unabated, which has led to frustration and anger among wildlife conservationists.
Realists within the conservationist community may, “have expected a commitment from CITES to categorically state that their ivory trading mechanism has been a shambolic failure, noting that since the two CITES approved so called one-off sales of ivory in 1997 and 2008 there has been a measured increase in elephant poaching to fuel the ivory trade.”
CITES’s 1997 approval to sell elephant tusks was meant to undermine the market by lowering the price, thereby, reducing profits and creating a disincentive for trafficking. But it had the reverse effect. Southeast Asia, perhaps purposefully, misconstrued this as an implicit invitation to buy and sell. Yet, what causes incredulous dismay among conservationists is that, after this plan proved to be resounding failure in 1997, CITES implemented it again in 2008.
“CITES is sticking band-aids on with one hand and fueling poaching with the other. Its failure to combat the fundamental driver of the killing amounts to gross international negligence,” says Dr. Rosalind Reeve of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
“We’re disappointed by the lack of urgency from governments to speed up the sanctions process against countries that have failed to act for years to curb the illegal ivory trade in their countries, while the slaughter of thousands of elephants continues in Africa,” said Carlos Drews, head of World Wildlife Fund’s CITES delegation.
Steve Itela, director of Youth for Conservation says, “Evidence is irrefutable that China bears the main responsibility for the elephant poaching crisis yet it continues to hide behind a facade of denial . . . China could end the killing by immediately closing its domestic ivory markets and severely punishing citizens engaged in illegal ivory trade. But it chooses ivory trinkets for a luxury market over live elephants.” Is CITES indulging China?
The director of Robin des Bois, Charlotte Nithart, adds: “Any further discussion of legalizing ivory trade is a recipe for extinction . . . Just as the legal trade in cigarettes, medicines, and weapons has not stopped them being smuggled, the legal trade in ivory has not stopped the slaughter of elephants and smuggling of their ivory.”
“Any discussions on legalizing trade in wildlife products be it ivory, rhino horns, or tiger parts is stimulating demand,” explains Mary Rice, Executive Director of EIA. “Such rhetoric must cease immediately if we are to reverse the trend toward extinction of these and other species.”
“CITES has a tendency to be swayed by proposals suggesting that large species such as elephants can be exploited sustainably and the profits set aside to provide funds for future conservation when there is no evidence that these have ever worked other than superficially in the short term,” said Andrew Dobson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. “In contrast, there is evidence that shows how rapidly these schemes lead to loss of the resource species and only short-term profitability to the few individuals who ran the scheme.”
Elephants, and conservationists alike, have been overwhelmed by a juggernaut of death and destruction that is systemic, industrialized and fed by insect-like greed.
The precipitous drop from 1.2 million African elephants in 1980 to only 420,000 in 2012 a loss of 780,000 elephants or 65%—is especially troubling; for, this may be the dramatic manifestation of an incomplete continuum, the end of which could be extinction.
From the best, up-to-date estimates, it appears that poachers may be presently killing as many as 50,000 elephants each year, although we may rest assured that the number is consistently 30,000.
“Sport” hunters are adding to this ongoing massacre, exceeding kills by poachers in some range states. As we have demonstrated, hunting elephants is, on every level, throughly detrimental; and, culling has been antiquated by easier, more proficient population control technologies.
Bushmeat hunting is another problem. Approximately one million metric tons of bush meat is eaten each year, the equivalent of 9 billion quarter pounders. Some of this is elephant meat. Thus, poachers and hunters have become iconoclasts of Africa’s living symbol.
Both types of hunting diminishes the value of elephants, sending a damning message to those who might as easily be influenced to protect them. Together, the unrelenting onslaught of poaching and hunting damages local economies that largely depend upon tourists who wish to see elephants in the wild. In turn, locals poach from desperation and the cycle spirals downward.
Traffickers are significantly enabled by (1) the Chinese colonization of Africa, providing ready access to tusks, (2) the feeling of entitlement to take all that is wanted from their African colonies and (3) the cultural superstitions and ignorance of hundreds of millions of Chinese and Southeast Asians.
Masters of stealth, traffickers and are, in many cases, protected by criminals politicians who are often their partners and, in other cases, they are protected by state government. When rarely prosecuted they are seldom convicted. Organized poachers, such as Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, appear to carry out their wanton slaughter of entire herds without fear of the law.
Therefore, it must be submitted, with appropriate humility, that no prevailing guard stands between the African elephant and these predators.
Shipments of elephant tusks flow to China with almost unbroken sequence in spite of the best strategic formulas of conservationists and law enforcement officials. Even tactical maneuvers by rangers are hampered by local criminal politicians and it is not uncommon for some rangers to receive payoffs from them.
From the ominous discoveries of this inquiry, it seems quite feasible that the African elephant could become extinct within 15 years, if we use the conservative estimate of 30,000 being killed annually and assume no change in this current trend:
(420k total African elephants) ÷ (30k killed each year) = 14 years
Reducing the demand from Southeast Asia will require the oceanic change of a gargantuan, ancient culture and years to implement. During this interval, we may presume that traffickers will send poachers to new territories such as Botswana, which has been relatively safe thus far. However, being about the size of France, its borders will be challenging to protect.
Yet, elephants simultaneously face attack from another front: The geometric multiplication of human births in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is predicted that the populace will equal 1.25 billion in 2025, nearly 2 billion in 2050 and 4 billion by 2100.
We can expect that this exponential explosion will bring unprecedented encroachment as additional people venture toward elephant ranges, robbing them of their homes.
And so, a confluence of two deadly rivers converge upon elephants: industrialized trafficking and unparalleled human encroachment. Should the tide of trafficking be turned back and controlled, human encroachment may present an equaling insidious threat.
In the face of this two pronged advance, individuals, nations and NGOs have, in many cases it seems, abdicated their responsibilities to CITES with a false sense of security. CITES has been operational since 1975 and has 180 member nations. Why, therefore, has it not marshaled a coalescence of authority from among them to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants since 1975?
So, while it seems entirely feasible that the African elephant will become extinct within 15 years from trafficking, it is probable they will become extinct from a deadly combination: (1) trafficking, (2) hunting, (3) human encroachment and (4) lack of leadership from conservationists. Perhaps the later of these, it is humbly suggested, is the most tragic.
Finally, a fair measurement of success must be seen from the vantage point of elephants. Therefore, to succeed we must agree that nothing has yet succeeded. Meaningful progression requires that we start from this ice cold fact.