By Samantha Strindberg, Fiona Maisels
There is nothing a mother elephant will not do for her infant, but even she cannot protect it from bullets. About a year ago, poachers attacked a family of forest elephants in central Africa. The biologist who witnessed the attack told us that wildlife guards were completely outgunned. In the end, an elephant mother, riddled with bullets and trumpeting with pain and fear, was left to use her enormous body to shield her baby. Her sacrifice was for naught; the baby was also killed.
Such is the reality facing African forest elephants today.
This mother and child were just two of the tens of thousands of forest elephants that have been butchered over the past decade. A staggering 62 percent vanished from central Africa between 2002 and 2011, according to a study we have just published with 60 other scientists in the journal PLoS One. It was the largest such study ever conducted in the central African forests, where elephants are being poached out of existence for their ivory.
In China and other countries in the Far East, there has been an astronomical rise in the demand for ivory trinkets that, no matter how exquisitely made, have no essential utility whatsoever. An elephant’s tusks have become bling for consumers who have no idea or simply don’t care that it was obtained by inflicting terror, horrendous pain and death on thinking, feeling, self-aware beings.
One of us recently came face to face with this horror while walking through a forest in central Africa. The sickening stench provided the first warning. As the smell grew more pungent, the humming sound of death that surrounds the body of a dead elephant became more pronounced: thousands of buzzing flies, laying eggs and feeding on the corpse. The body was grotesquely cloaked by white, writhing fly maggots; the belly was swollen with the gas of decay. The elephant’s face was a bloody mess, its tusks hacked out with an ax — an atrocity that is often committed while the animal is alive. More....