Sunday, September 09, 2012

Slaughter on the Savannah . . .

Dead Elephant
Slain for Ivory Tusks
Tyler Hicks

Some weeks ago, I posted an entry on elephant 'conversation' but admitted that I didn't really know if elephants could talk. If they can, however, what must they be saying of us, for I recently read a NYT article, "Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits" (September 3, 2012), written by Jeffrey Gettleman about the ongoing extinction of the African Elephant:
Conservationists say the mass kill-offs taking place across Africa may be as bad as, or worse than, those in the 1980s, when poachers killed more than half of Africa's elephants before an international ban on the commercial ivory trade was put in place.

"We're experiencing what is likely to be the greatest percentage loss of elephants in history," said Richard G. Ruggiero, an official with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some experts say the survival of the species is at stake, especially when many members of the African security services entrusted with protecting the animals are currently killing them.

"The huge populations in West Africa have disappeared, and those in the center and east are going rapidly," said Andrew Dobson, an ecologist at Princeton. "The question is: Do you want your children to grow up in a world without elephants?"

. . .

In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species passed a moratorium on the international commercial trade of African elephant ivory, except under a few rare circumstances. No one knows how many elephants are being poached each year, but many leading conservationists agree that "tens of thousands" is a safe number and that 2012 is likely to be worse than 2011.

The total elephant population in Africa is a bit of a mystery, too. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global conservation network, estimates from 472,269 to 689,671. But that is based on information from 2006. Poaching has dramatically increased since then, all across the continent.
If "tens of thousands" means at least 50,000 per year, then taking the larger estimate of about 700,000 elephants, we have only 14 years till the end of the African elephant. That such an enormous mammal could be wiped out is terrible enough, but knowing what I have learned of elephant intelligence within the past couple of years makes the tragedy even more monstrous. The elephant's cortex has as many neurons as that of humans, and -- also like humans -- the elephant's brain has the lengthy spindle neurons characteristic of a few large-brained creatures, possibly to facilitate integration of distant cerebral parts in such a large-brained animal. Among the many astonishing things about elephants is the they even seem to bury their dead. And there really is speculation that they have language, though this is of course a contentious issue. For convenience, I link to Wikipedia, a generally unreliable encyclopedia, but this article on elephant intelligence is well-sourced, so you can use footnotes to follow up the claims made and see if they have substance.

And when you have read what I've read, you'll also ask how we can allow such a large, fascinating, sentient, intelligent creature to be wiped out.

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At 12:22 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Terrible. Shameful. Distressing.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, and there's little I can do. Except blog about it . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's such a shame. Where there's demand, there's supply. But the Westerners are a bit of hypocrites here. Americans nearly killed off the buffaloes, wolves and some other mammalian species, Europeans most wild animals, and now we point fingers at the African poachers. We also sell them arms they use for killing the big game. We ain't no better. The bee is much more crucial for our survival and soon we'll wipe it out with GM plants, insecticides, herbicides, and mono-cultural farming. If the elephant and other big mammals stand in the way of big corporations, their days will be numbered.


At 7:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm not convinced that we're hypocrites. We Westerners criticize our own ancestors, too. I see that you are critical of things, as well, but that doesn't make you a hypocrite. We have to be critical.

Incidentally, it's not corporations threatening the elephants; it's the Asian ivory trade.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I know why they poach elephants. What I mean is that we try to save them from poachers, but once the unscrupulous corporations place their greedy hands on the African savanna the elephants and other big animals, just like tigers in Asia will at best be forced to live on a small patch of land, at worst face extinction. We are hypocrites. The world cannot feed all the people the American way. It'll collapse if we try. 80% of American corn ends up in the livestock's stomachs. 95% of oat. On one acre can be grown 40.000 pounds of potatoes, but just 250 pounds of meat can be produced. The meat industry needs more and more land to grow crops for the cattle. Unfortunately people from rising economies usually look up at Americans to follow their lifestyle. If Africans incorporate that lifestyle there will be no more wildlife left.


At 12:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You have a point.

Jeffery Hodges

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