The Existence of Elephants in Africa - Endangered by Demands for Ivory Tusks

The Existence of Elephants in Africa - Endangered by Demands for Ivory Tusks
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The Threats of Elephant Extinction

Elephant poaching still threatens the existence of the elephants in Africa. Despite an international ban for the sale of ivory tusks in 1989, the smuggled tusks seized in certain international port areas show evidences that poaching is still rampant in African and Asian countries. Officials at the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, fear that elephants in Africa will be wiped out by year 2020.

In May to December in 2006, and on separate occasions in their respective areas of responsibilities,customs authorities of different international port areas in Asia, confiscated a succession of contraband items containing tons of ivory tusks mercilessly severed from elephants in Africa. Ivory tusks is said to be highly in demand in Putian, one of the busiest cities in China, where factories surround the metropolis.

The Demand for Ivory Tusks

ivory tusks

carved ivory tusks

In the 1970’s up to the late 1980’s, there came a large demand for ivory tusks in the world market. Ever since modern man discovered its smooth texture, the demand for its use in artistic sculptures, as raw materials for dagger handles, jewelry, piano keys, mahjong tiles and a host of other purposes man could think of.

Only 2/3 of the elephant’s tusk is visible to the human eyes and the remaining 1/3 of it is embedded in the skull of the animal. This is the reason why poachers have to slay the elephants just to get the ivory tusks. Since elephants are big and travel in herds, poachers and hunters have no difficulty in hunting for these animals.

Hence, the population of elephants started to decline which caused the 1.3 million elephants in Africa to dwindle to only 600,000 by 1997. In the Sierra Leone region, their elephants have totally disappeared while Senegal is said to have less than 10 elephants still existing. The elephant population in Kenya dwindled by 85% because of the demand during those periods. Ivory tusks now sells at $90 to $100 a pound but is more lucrative if traded in “black markets” where prices can soar up to $ 1,800 per pound. All these are happening, despite the ban on the international trade of ivory tusks, set forth in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The International Ban on Ivory Tusks Trade

In a 1989 meet of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the issues about Asian elephants’ extinction and the threatened elephants in Africa came into focus. Delegates of CITES voted unanimously to ban international sales of ivory to stop the mass killings of elephants and protect these animals as well.

The implementation of elephant poaching bans left many African governments with fair shares of seized ivory tusks. Some of the African governments in this continent made a move to sell the confiscated billions of dollars worth of ivory internationally. Naturally, this was thwarted by CITES since selling the elephant tusks might only lead to ivory trading once again.

However in 2007, compromises were made when CITES allowed China to purchase the seized ivory tusks on a one-time deal for the main purpose of helping out these African countries. The African nations allowed to participate in the one-time deal were Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Nearly 50 metric tons of ivory tusks were up for sale, all coming from illegal trade seizures or during culls of stable elephant populations.

After the consummation of the said one-time deal, CITES imposed a nine-year moratorium on legal ivory sales. Accordingly, there will be a close monitoring as to the effect of the ivory trade between China and the African nations, whether this will spur another bout of illegal ivory sale.

Unfortunately, elephant poaching is reported as still rampant because of the rising demand for ivory tusks and only the illegal traders benefited from the ban. Today, they can demand as much $17,000 for a single elephant tusk.

The Conservation of the Threatened Elephants in Africa

800px-Elefant Masai Mara

On their part, the different African governments implemented wildlife reserves, to help keep the poachers out of the elephants’ natural habitats. Nevertheless, these reserves require a lot of funding and the respective African governments claim that tourism alone cannot sustain the maintenance of these reservation parks. Ironically, the wildlife officials allow the intentional killings of some elephants, known as culling, in order to maintain the number of elephants at a manageable level. Accordingly, culling measures are being implemented to maximize resources, as well as to provide additional conservation funds. Otherwise, a large cluster of elephants concentrated in a single area meant rapid depletion of their funding resources.

However, this makes its possible for smugglers to sneak in their illegal trade by passing-off their poached ivory as product of culled elephants. They are shipped to adjacent countries and from there, their ivory trade will be made to appear legal. As a counter-measure, authorities subject ivory tusks to DNA testings in order to trace the origins of stolen tusks. This way, poaching hotspots were pinpointed while some poachers were caught in the process.

It is also quite ironic that some African farmers will gladly welcome the disappearance of these animals since they are considered as humongous pests. Due to their large size and large appetite, these enormous animals tend to destroy the entire cultivation of a farmer once they seek for new sources of food and water. Thus, for their ivory tusks and for their monstrous appetites, the state of elephants in Africa have elevated from threatened to endangered, since they find little support from local farmers.

As a note, it may interest you to know that animal rights organizations support elephant protection by collecting funds for the upkeep of the wildlife reserves. The only problem is, only a few people are aware that such a dilemma exists; hence, you may want to pass this information on.