An appalling reduction is under way in the world’s elephant population. The elephant — a usually gentle, long-lived animal — is considered by many experts to be nearly as intelligent as humans. It is still found in Africa and Asia, and in zoos, but it is in severe danger of extinction in the wild in the not-too-distant future.
Africa’s elephant population was estimated at 1.3 million in the 1970s; it now stands at fewer than 500,000. The Asian elephant population is below 50,000. Elephants will be extinct in Kenya by 2025 if the rate of killing prevails.
In zoos around the world, the elephant population is aging past breeding time. In the wild, greedy poachers are quite ready to kill elephants for their tusks. They are equipped with increasing arms supplies from Africa’s wars, and from dealers who traffic in the avid, largely Asian, market for trinkets, jewelry, and art made from ivory.
Elephants face other threats to their habitat. Farmers, especially in Africa, want the land that elephants require for grazing. Unregulated loggers are cutting down the trees that form a large part of elephants’ diet.
Who is responsible for the progressive elimination of elephants? The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has identified source, transit, and consumer countries involved in the bloody trade.
Countries on the list of poachers include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and South Sudan. Transit countries named are Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Consumer countries include China, Thailand, and Japan.
The loss that the extinction of the elephant would represent, unless it is halted, will be nearly as grave for the human population that is unable to protect this global asset as it is for the animal itself. What is the matter with us?