By Christi Turner
Samwel Tokore has seen countless elephant carcasses in his time as wildlife operations officer for the Kenya Wildlife Service. But he is still disturbed by what he calls the slaughter and torture of these creatures by poachers.
“They just take the tusks,” Tokore says. “They have no interest in the meat, in the whole animal. They just take a very small fraction of that threeton, four-ton animal.”
And even after more than 30 years of international campaigning against the ivory trade and the slaughter behind it, these “fractions” of African elephants still slip out of the 37 countries where they live, feeding the global demand for ivory, tusk by tusk. The Center for Conservation Biology, based at the University of Washington, estimates that as many as 50,000 elephants are being killed annually, with only about 400,000 remaining in the wild. The Environmental Investigation Agency says 2013 may have been the most destructive year for African elephants on record. Left unchecked, poaching could claim all of Africa’s remaining elephants in as few as 10 years.
Recently, the destruction has prompted a surge in the international outcry against the illegal ivory trade. In Botswana, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature convened officials to a three-day African Elephant Summit beginning Dec. 2, with the goal of securing a high-level commitment to halt the illegal ivory trade, all the way from source to consumer. In June, the Philippines — a consumer of ivory — destroyed its five-ton ivory stockpile, ensuring that the confiscated tusks would never make their way to a jewelry shop.
And last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulverized its stockpile of nearly six tons of ivory, housed at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City. The ivory represented potentially many thousands of African elephants, but an industrial rock crusher turned the tusks and carved trinkets to dust and rubble, sending a clear message from the world’s second-largest consumer of ivory that enough is enough.
“We’ve seen that we are now getting supporters in the fight against poaching,” Tokore says, expressing his hope that this recent upwelling will help bring global demand for ivory back down.
But will it?
Shruti Suresh, wildlife campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency in London, says the destruction of ivory stockpiles does indeed help global efforts to stem the massacre of African elephants.
“Once governments have recognized that, look, we need to end demand for ivory — that this is a crisis for African elephants — then you need to stop putting a price tag on ivory,” Suresh says. “The next step is to get rid of it.” More....