By Victoria Finan
Gentle, friendly elephants were part of our childhood landscape.
We grew up with Dumbo and Babar, singing ‘Nellie The Elephant’ as we hugged our cuddly Elmer.
Yet, close the storybook and the real narrative is brutal. For hundreds of years, the largest land mammal on earth has been persecuted to almost the point of extinction by its greatest enemy- man.
Much of their suffering has been due to hunters coveting their ivory tusks. Yet their killers’ methods are often both creative and cruel. Elephants who are killed for their ivory often die slow, agonising deaths after being shot several times. In Zimbabwe, more than 80 elephants died after poachers poisoned their watering holes with cyanide. One particularly barbarous tactic sees poachers target a baby elephant in order to goad the mother, making it easier to shoot her and remove her tusk. Often, the tusks are removed whilst the elephant is still alive and suffering.
Their persecution is nothing new. Elephant ivory trade can be traced back as early as the 14th century BC, but it was during the 17th and 18th centuries that it evolved into a major export. Slaves brought ivory back to Britain to be used for jewellery and piano keys amongst others (there is a wide range of 18th century ivory jewellery on show at The British Museum). Around 1000 tonnes of ivory was brought to Europe at the peak of colonisation.
It was after World War Two that the ivory trade evolved to how we know it today. During the 1980s, the ivory trade was unregulated, and as a result, around 700,000 elephants were killed in one decade alone. In 1990, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) decided to impose restrictions on the ivory trade, leading to a ban.
Today, poachers across Africa and Asia continue to persecute elephants for their tusks- which now have a value of around £40,000 each. The trade is now particularly large in China and Japan.
However, sadly for the elephants, several countries including Zimbabwe and South Africa, chose to ignore the ban. More....