August 12th marks the annual World Elephant Day, a day to bring attention to the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants. Naturally, our focus at Afri-Campus will be on the larger of the two cousins, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana).
For those of you who have not had the luxury to see elephants in the wild, it is a sight to be held. They are truly remarkable and enchanting creatures – when viewed at a distance, when undisturbed, they radiate an aura of peace and tranquillity. Their eyes tell a story of wisdom and intelligence that will make shivers run down your spine. They move with the most incredible grace, barely making a sound as they traverse through the bush. Often known as the ‘grey ghosts’ of the bush, they have an eerie ability to disappear from sight within seconds. The largest land mammals on earth simply vanish into the bushveld within the briefest of moments.
Their persona is not always so gentle and mild, however. When stressed or when approached beyond their comfort zone, the true power of these creatures comes to light. To witness a charging elephant is a truly terrifying and stomach curdling experience. An experience that will quickly help you to regain perspective. One suddenly becomes very aware of our inferiority as humans.
Whether their mood is serene or vexed, they are a species which ought to command respect. Which ought to remain superior. Which ought to be seen and enjoyed by many generations to come. Sadly, however, African elephants are persecuted for a commodity which they possess, which they increasingly struggle to protect for themselves, their tusks. Despite the elephant’s impressive power, strength and stature compared to that of a human being, the grey ghosts are losing the fight against poaching. Armed with high calibre rifles, poachers are using their arsenal of weaponry to slaughter our pachyderm friends at an alarming rate.
Victimized for vanity
Elephant tusks are sold on the black market and typically carved into jewellery and ornaments. China is the biggest consumer market for such products. According to the Born Free Foundation, more than 25,000 African elephants died at the hands of poachers in 2015. Furthermore, 129,000 animals have been poached for their ivory since 2012. There were around 1.3 million African elephants alive in 1980. In 2012, there were only an estimated 420,000 to 690,000 elephants left. The figures are terrifying. African elephants are classified as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.
Most poaching today is not done by poor farmers needing an income for their family. Instead, poaching is done by well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates.
Sickeningly, poached carcasses are also being laced with poison which is having a huge knock-on effect on dozens of other species. Anti-poaching and security teams often rely on vultures as their eyes in the sky. Vultures can detect carcasses from many kilometres away and the circling activity of these great birds can often assist security teams to find carcasses. In order to escape arrest, poachers prefer to keep their despicable activities undetected. Eliminating vultures by poisoning the meat, removes the poachers aerial nemesis. In March this year, a poached elephant carcass in Kruger was laced with poison, killing over 100 vultures, two lions and two jackals.
With one elephant falling at the hands of poachers every 15 minutes in Africa, our once affectionate name for these great beasts, the ‘grey ghosts’ of the bush, may become more accurate and their vanishing acts more permanent. Use today, World Elephant Day, to spread awareness about the plight of African elephants. Start a conversation today and spread your knowledge.
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