photo from National Geographic magazine
One of the qualities I love most about Comet is that she seems to be an eternal optimist. Every time we get into the car (her favorite activity) she is happy and excited, as if that adventure will be the most wonderful adventure of her life. With regards to animal welfare issues, I try to be an optimist, too. I still believe that teaching people about issues will enlighten them and give hope to the way we treat animals. However, recently, my optimism has been challenged more than even I care to admit.
There has been much information in the media lately about the plight of our world’s largest land mammal, the African elephant. For those of you who might not know about the situation, elephants have been hunted for a great many decades for the prize of their ivory tusks. Elephant tusks are actually elongated incisor teeth, which continue to grow for the life of the animal. Tusks are found on both male and female elephants and can grow over six feet in length. They are used for defense as well as to help forage for food and move things, like tree logs out of the way.
In the twentieth century, elephants were hunted almost to the brink of extinction in many parts of Africa. Most animals were poached, that is, killed illegally. Elephant ivory has been used for many things such as piano keys, billiard balls, knife handles, buttons, decorative carvings, and jewelry—none of these items worthy of the decimation of a species. In 1989, in a great attempt to halt the slaughter of these beautiful creatures, CITES (the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species) called for a ban on international trade in ivory. This world-wide ban virtually halted demand of ivory and worked well enough so that the populations of some herds were able to rebound and become healthy again.
In the past years, a few African countries have allowed elephant hunting to resume in efforts to control populations and the ivory trade. This trickling in of ivory has increased demand and hence, the value of ivory, which has caused a major increase in poaching once again. This time, however, the demand is coming almost exclusively from Asia, specifically China and Japan. Poaching is appealing to African people who are economically poor, as it can feed families and better lifestyles. But on a long-term basis, poaching will not help Africa.
Some worst-case scenarios estimate that the African elephant may become extinct in less than twenty years. Most people agree that encouraging eco-tourism, which values the animals, will provide for much stronger and stable economies in the long run. People come from around the world to visit Africa and to see its people and animals. If animals are wiped out, then people will be unlikely to visit. Ultimately Africa needs to decide if it will save the elephant.
This is where I become more optimistic again. We need to ask our government to put pressure on Africa and Asia to save the elephant. Our president, senators, and congressmen should tell Asia that we will do less business with them if they keep buying poached ivory. Asia relies on the U.S. and the world to buy products that they manufacture. If they want to sell to the world, then they need to be more responsible to our planet. And our government should also pressure African countries which receive our money in aid, telling them that we want to see more efforts to curtail poaching and will reward countries for helping to save animals. It can be done, but it needs to happen soon.
Three things you can do:
1. Write letters. Your letters keep this important wildlife topic alive. Write to people in politics, tv, newpaper, radio, business—asking for their help in calling attention to the plight of the elephants. Encourage them to call on Asia and Africa to work on this problem and support a ban on ivory.
2. READ. Stay informed as to what is happening in the world regarding wildlife. Visit reputable websites for organizations working on this issue (there are many). Read about the biology of these creatures and the sociology of the people. Brainstorm ideas that might be possible solutions. Ask your teachers if you can do a special project on this subject and present it to a class or science fair. Keep the topic alive by educating others.
3. Participate in fundraisers. Organizations that are helping to save the elephant need money for conservation research and protective animal sanctuaries.
Read more about this issue:
Conde Nast Traveler
Save the Elephants
Seattle Post Globe