Guest Columnist: Save the elephants

Andrew Rogers

Save the elephants, please. The illegal ivory trade is responsible for accelerating the slaughter and dismemberment of one of the most awe-inspiring creatures in the natural world, the African and Asian elephants. Factions across Africa are illegally killing an estimated 35,000 elephants a year in order to support the trade of ivory across the world, especially to China, where the material is considered a status symbol amongst a growing pool of Chinese elites.

In a half-hearted and possibly disingenuous effort to rectify the disproportionately large amount of ivory being imported to China from Africa, the Chinese government announced in February that it would be instituting a one-year hold on ivory imports, which are already limited because China is a signatory to international agreements aimed at limiting the ivory trade. The agreements, however, don’t always ban the transport of carved ivory by individuals.

Before the recent hold was implemented, these agreements actually fueled the ivory trade to China, rather than stifled it. In limiting the ivory trade to China, rather than banning it outright, the agreements allowed for some ivory to be legally imported into China, providing the perfect cover for selling illegally obtained ivory on the expanding black market.

It provides the ivory trader the option of professing an honest ignorance of complex, transnational agreements rather than admitting guilt when found in possession of illegal ivory. Cases like this are too often excused as misunderstandings as it is difficult to determine whether any one piece of ivory is contraband or legal.

According to the Guardian, the average Chinese citizen is inundated with ads brandishing the latest and greatest in illegal wildlife products, and a survey of 15 Chinese websites found that more than half of the ads were for ivory products.

Not shockingly, the elephant population has continued to dwindle and the illegal ivory trade has continued to grow since China implemented the hold on ivory imports, or what the Environmental Investigation Agency described as a “window dressing.”

While it may be a symbolic gesture on China’s end to demonstrate their willingness to fight the slaughter of elephants, it is not enough to curb the mass death of the large animals, and I suspect may have been done to give the false impression that they care about elephants at all.

The poachers who do the brave work of stalking an unsuspecting herbivore, only to shoot it from a distance with a high-powered rifle, poison it with a dart from afar or outright slaughter them with machetes when they are weakened from hunger, have moved on from killing just elephants to also killing those who try to stop them; my calculation of their cowardice may have been slightly off. The Cameroonian military has reported clashes with poachers as they attempt to save elephants from illegal and unjust death.

After 20 elephants were killed in a two-week period on a small swathe of land, Cameroon’s military intelligence recovered evidence that Sudanese rebels were responsible for the illegal hunting. The rebels were armed with automatic weapons, which they used in an attempt to ward off the military. This elevates the stakes of the trade.

Not only are those who take part in it willing to kill to see it continue and their pockets lined, but they are willing to square off with a trained military force tit-for-tat to do so. This is an echo of a report that recently found that illegal wildlife trafficking, which is the criminal category the ivory trade falls into, is the fourth largest source of transnational criminal activity, just behind the human, drug and weapons trades. It nets an estimated $8-10 billion annually, according to Jacque Lebois of the Economic Community of Central African States.

The rising status of this nefarious trade means that it has to be protected, and the bigger it grows, the more protection it requires. Thus, the presence of tribes like the Sudanese rebels in Africa rise.

I’m passionate about the preservation of the lives of elephants, and I believe their inherent value surpasses that of their weight in ivory. Aside from their impeccable memory, elephants are known to grieve their dead. Elephants tend to one another’s wounds, and express frustration by using their trunk like a trumpet.

Elephants even try to bury their dead. Elephants have been observed in the wild taking notice to the bones of a long-lost comrade and staring at them, as if to mourn, before carrying on. These are precious creatures with a demonstrable sense of self.

Elephants care about each other and their fellow animals, demonstrated by having also been observed aiding animals of different species in distress, including humans, according to the Guardian Liberty Voice.  Elephants have been hunted to the point of “ecological extinction” which means that there are not enough elephants left even to measure their impact on their environment or the species that share that environment.

I’m hoping that — out of love for the elephants and a slightly selfish desire to see these animals in nature myself sometime in the future — that we can do more to preserve their lives. Please, save the elephants.

Contact Andrew Rogers at [email protected].