Elephant (Google image 12/08/13)
I sit here at my desk thinking... what does an elephant mean to me? Strength, charisma, intelligence, loyalty, emotion, trust, memory... and then I remembered reading a report written by Joyce Poole, Conservationist. She had witnessed some remarkable behaviour whilst researching and observing elephants for many years. She noted how they communicate with sophisticated sign language using their ears and trunks. The curl of a trunk or fold of the ear can convey vital information to a fellow elephant. How they have sense of self and a sense of humour... Some how, I am not surprised. Why should humans be the only species who have the ability to see the amusing side? And, as the elephants became familiar with Joyce watching them from a safe distance, they grew confident and showed her their humorous side. The elephants would run towards her jeep, as though charging (at first Joyce was scared, naturally) then, they would pretend to fall over in front of her and run back again. This would be repeated over and over. It became apparent that the elephants were playing and jesting with Joyce. Elephants have a sense of 'self ' and they know they are funny...
That said, elephants have an understanding of empathy, what it is to console and pay homage to the death of their own kind. They will assist or rouse an injured or fallen elephant and will never leave an infant's side. You may have seen the episode of "Africa", presented by Sir David Attenborough, where the filming of a baby elephant dying of dehydration during a severe drought evoked heartache not only to the viewer but the mother who desperately tried to help her weak infant who was unable to keep up in the soaring heat.
I watched a film in 3D at the Science Museum of the effects on an infant elephant when they witness their mother being slaughtered by poachers. Once rescued, the infant is adopted by a kind volunteer, who devotes every hour of the day and night to the emotional and mental healing of the little one. At night they bed down together for months on end. As the infant has nightmares and cries out, the volunteer is there to comfort, hold and reassure them. Sometimes this treatment can last for years, furthermore, as the elephant reaches adolescence, counselling is often needed.. It is then good practise to prepare the elephant for release back to the wild.
30,000 elephants are killed by poachers a year. Ofir Drori, a writer and activist based in central Africa, is the founder of LAGA - The Wildlife enforcement non - governmental organisation and winner of the 2012 Duke of Edinburgh Conservation medal. A film following his good ethics was released showing the recent arrest of a notorious ivory dealer, Emile "The Boss" N' Bouke. This
unethical character had been trading for 40 years with corrupt officials and was well connected in the ivory business. Feared by many, evidence had been found of exporting and smuggling. He had also been directly financing the poaching of elephants in West Africa. Now, thanks to the commitment and finely- combed investigating of Ofir Drori... "The Boss" has finally been arrested and will be going on trial.
Last week, 1,120 tusks, 13 Rhino horns and 5 Leopard skins were discovered in a crate ready to be shipped from Nigeria to Hong Kong. Last December, 2012, over 6 tonnes of ivory were seized in Malaysia. An undercover reporter found out that $8,000 can be earned from one full single tusk. One of the packers working for "The Boss", told how he packs the tusks for travel in such a way that the scans will only see the clothes in luggage. China legally bought 73 tonnes of ivory from Africa in 2008. Since then, poaching and smuggling have soared drastically. If an animal is not listed as endangered, importing of parts can still be legal, due sadly, to popular demand. This, evidently, encourages the illegal slaughtering.
Last night I was driven to tears again whilst watching footage of an elephant being poached. In the forest, casually strolling, an elephant was shot down. Two blows to the head. The poacher then ran out of bullets but continued to wrench the tusks from the vulnerable animal. The elephant was still alive and screaming out in pain. My first thought this morning was of the expression on the elephants face as it cried out. The poacher showed no remorse what so ever... he just continued to hammer and saw.
With $6,000 - $8,000 being fetched on the black market, an unskilled Kenyan can be funded for 10 years. Thus, the vanishing elephants are funding a growing population of out - of - work humans. Portrayed as an easy money maker, more and more animals are being slaughtered to sustain ignorance. Poachers are armed, in some cases, with AK - 47s and grenades. One of the largest mass slaughters in decades was facilitated in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjidah National Park where over 300 elephants were murdered.
Africa's elephants and their range have dramatically diminished since 1979, largely due to poaching. In 1979 the elephant population was 1.3 million and in 2007, an average of 500,000. People are devastating a species that is already losing ground to a growing human population.
The tusk serves multiple purpose. Digging for water, salt and roots. Defence and attack, moving trees and branches to make a path, debarking, marking and to protect the all important trunk. The tusks are modified incisors, attached to the upper jaw of the elephant. In fact, they replace the milk teeth at 6 - 12 months, growing continuously up to 17cm (7") a year. New tusk has enamel coating which eventually wears off leaving the dentine known as ivory. Thus, a living tissue that is relatively soft (unfortunately, this is good for carving). Much of the incisor can be seen externally, but some is fastened to a socket within the skull. One third of the tusk contains a pulp and.... the bad news... nerves...stretching to the tip. So... when the poacher wrenches and saws out the tusk... excruciating pain is encountered by the elephant. Imagine having a molar pulled out... no anaesthetic - pure pain multiplied by one thousand...
Elephants are large, herbivorous mammals, whose habitat includes savannahs, forests, deserts and marshes. They are a keystone species due to their impact on the environment. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild and are socially and emotionally intelligent animals. They are more powerful than a Predator such as a tiger or lion, showing that their size and wisdom is not to be challenged. Other animals keep their distance and show respect. Elephants are recognised Universally and through literature, art, folklore, religion and popular culture we have grown to love and admire them. So... this begs the question, why do we allow this majestic animal to be the victim of such inhumane cruelty? I ask, "What would Jesus do?"
Hanging in a museum in Manila, The Philippines, is the largest ivory crucifix - the body of Christ, carved from a tusk - 30" long. The piece dates back to the 1600's when Spanish galleons began bringing Asian ivory craftsmanship to Spain and The New World. The global religious market for ivory is a driving force. Church doctrine states that "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly". I am yet to see evidence of this statement. I think Jesus would disapprove and, where there are poachers and a huge demand for ivory... there is certainly no dignity. I am sure that Jesus would be more than satisfied to have his dying moment carved from wood.
Some of you may have read "Wild Moments" and my experience with meeting an elephant face to face. She felt threatened because of my apparent height whilst standing on the top deck of a truck. Her ears flapped and her trunk went up in haste as she communicated concern for her young. Luckily, my instinct kicked in and I sat down, making myself smaller. Softly, I told her it was alright... She backed away after some time and two calves stepped out in front of the truck... I was scared, believe me. She was a powerful force of nature. In hindsight, I feel privileged to have had that moment. She read my body language... I spoke to her and it had an effect. We connected.
Although CITES (Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) wanted to control international movements of ivory and put a ban on the ivory trade in 1979- 80, the supply and demand still prevailed. This idea was opposed by South Africa, arguing that the financial resources from the ivory went back in to conservation. They also argued that they were managing elephant numbers responsibly. In Zimbabwe it was stated that wildlife had to have economic value attached to it to survive and that local communities needed to be involved. Sadly, without education, the locals can be persuaded to lead poachers out to the animals for a handsome some of money- many locals do not realise that the animals are worth so much more alive. Internationally, there is a massive incline of wildlife criminals, who seem to have access to CITES permits enabling them to sustain an illegal ivory trade. It seems that the controlling of ivory, is not very effective. WWF only came out in support of a ban in mid - 1989, ten years after the first proposal. Then, apparently, they attempted to water down decisions at the October 1989 meeting of CITES. Surprisingly, WWF opposed the ivory trade yet tried to appease the Southern African states. Finally, after much heated debate, The African elephant was put on appendix One of CITES, and three months later in January 1990, the international trade of ivory was banned.
South Africa and Zimbabwe still push for the international ivory trade. This is led by President Mugabe, who has been accused of bartering tonnes of ivory for weapons with China.
The novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, describes the brutal ivory trade as a wild, senseless wielding of power in support of the resource - hungry economic policies of European imperialists, describing the situation in Congo between 1890 and 1910 as "The vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience." ( 1) To the elephants' great misfortune, the vile scramble is still manifested in our modern and supposedly civilised world.
I cannot - as an individual, take on Politicians, corrupt governments, poachers, murderers and dirty, scuzzy, inhumane black market traders. But, I can raise awareness. I can show that I care. Do you want to live in a world where the elephants lie with the ghosts and fossils of their Mammoth ancestors? Somehow, I doubt it. I say this again and again... We are blessed with these animals. They need our protection. The ivory trade should, in my view, be history. There is no longer a need to possess ornaments and carvings made from ivory just for the purpose of reflecting one's wealth and status. It is an ancient and backward practise, just like wearing real fur. I, for one, sincerely oppose the ivory trade.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is dedicated to the protection and conservation of wildlife and habitats. They are heading an International March ... making a stand for the protection of Elephants on October 4th 2013. I will be joining them... Save the Elephant!
Reference: (1) 'The horror! The horror! , 11 July 2011, rediff.com, an excerpt from the order of the Supreme Court of India.