I sincerely hope that my generation is not the first on this planet to consider elephants, rhinos or tigers as historical creatures," Britain's Duke of Cambridge said this summer. If his generation does not act, it will be. At a landmark conference on the future of the African elephant in Botswana, its organisers have warned that at current rates of poaching a fifth of the continent's elephants will have been killed off within a decade.
This is an optimistic gloss on the slaughter of a species that has come to represent mankind's unconscionable failure to live and let live alongside what remains of Earth's true wilderness.
In Kenya, campaigners fear the species will have disappeared entirely within the next 10 years. In Zambia, where populations were stable until a spike in poaching in 2009, they are now falling.
In Zimbabwe they have fallen by half since 2007. In Central Africa they have plunged by 60 per cent in a decade, and in most of West Africa they have collapsed to barely sustainable levels.
The cause - the global illegal ivory trade - is well known, but with few exceptions this knowledge has not been translated into effective counter-measures.
Ivory is smuggled by sophisticated crime gangs that find new routes out of Africa to their mainly Chinese clients as fast as old ones are interrupted.
Africa's elephants need technology on their side. South African pilot schemes injecting rhino horns with poisonous dye that can kill poachers when the horns are handled could be adapted to make ivory harder to trade.
Electronic tagging of living elephants' tusks could give law enforcement the edge in the information war they are waging with poachers, and the latest smuggling techniques might even lead detectives directly to the ivory trade's middlemen. Heathrow revealed a steep rise in illegal shipments using mainstream couriers, which all require delivery addresses.
Ultimately, the trade must be shut-down. For this the world needs China's help, which it can offer at no cost to its national interest. Beijing will be represented at a conference on the illegal wildlife trade in London in February, and leaders must seize that chance to speak for the endangered species of Africa. Animal lover