By Graham Land
The poaching of African elephants has increased so much in recent years that birth rates of wild populations have fallen behind, placing the animal at the risk of extinction. It doesn’t help that their natural habitat is shrinking either.
In just over 100 years the number of African elephant fell from around 10 million to only 500,000. According to data from the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone, Botswana, 22,000 elephants were killed last year and 25,000 the year before. The summit is held under the auspices of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the government of Botswana.
From the Associated Press:
"Poverty and weak governance in elephant range states, together with rising demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations, are believed to be the key factors behind the increase in elephant poaching in recent years."
The confluence of a valuable commodity, a dangerous illegal poaching industry and desperate poverty have pushed elephant killing into overdrive. Demand is rising in Asia (especially China) poaching is forever becoming more innovative, daring and therefore more damaging to surviving populations. In September cyanide was used to kill up to 300 elephants in a Zimbabwe wildlife reserve. It has been estimated that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes.
Dr Max Graham, elephant biologist and co-founder of the charity A Space for Giants which operates in northern Kenya, is quoted in a story for the Independent:
"The ivory trade, the poaching problem, is so big now it has come to dwarf any other problems we’re facing. In 2010, the single-biggest cause of elephants being killed in our area was human-elephant conflict, but in 2011 it changed completely and soon we were losing animals to poachers every other day. We did an elephant count in 2008 and we counted over 7,200 elephants in our part of northern Kenya. In 2012 we did the same count and counted 6,000."
It’s not that elephant charity efforts are lacking, but rather that environmental destruction and poaching are such huge problems. Thankfully Turner-Prize winning, shark-embalming artist Damien Hirst is helping out a Space for Giants by donating an original artwork (no, not an embalmed elephant) for a fundraising campaign. London Mayor Boris Johnson is also donating a signed bicycle helmet. Which one will fetch more only Ganesh (the elephant-headed god) knows.