By Wendy Worrall Redal
For safari travelers, few experiences are more moving than to be in the presence of elephants. One of Africa's most iconic species, they are highly intelligent and social. To watch a herd interact, especially with its youngsters, offers wonder and delight. And not many wildlife encounters can compare with a close-up view of an old elephant bull, whose giant tusks may grow to 10 feet long and weigh up to 100 pounds each.
Yet such opportunities are under severe threat as Africa's elephants face an unprecedented poaching siege. It's a crisis of global significance that the U.S. government is taking action against -- and one in which safari ecotourism plays an important role, undergirding the value for local communities of keeping elephants alive.
If Africa's elephants continue to be poached at today's rates, they could be wiped out in 10 years. That was the grim news delivered at last week's U.S. ivory crush at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, Colo. On Nov. 14, federal officials placed a six-ton stockpile of confiscated illegal ivory into a massive rock crusher, pulverizing it to drive home the message that trade in illegal ivory will not be tolerated.
The tusks and trinkets, many carved in intricate designs worth millions on the black market, represent the deaths of approximately 2,000 African elephants, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials. That is but a fraction of the elephants killed in the past year alone: some 35,000 have been slaughtered by poachers, at a rate of nearly 100 per day.
"This is a crucial moment in time. What we are seeing today with the decimation of these great wildlife populations is perhaps a harbinger of a world to come," said Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at a reception preceding the ivory crush event.
But an alternate future is possible, Ashe said, if we choose to "take care to protect these animals and what they represent for our planet." More....