By Wendy Worrall Redal
Two years ago when I was on safari in Botswana, I saw my first herd of wild elephants. We heard them first, a low, rumbling thunder in the distance. Then, out of the forest they emerged, the great gray pack crashing through a pool of standing water, so close they sent spray into our open-sided safari truck. The herd, at least 50 strong, trundled on through the wooded marsh, and we grinned as we watched a youngster struggle to keep up, running at full clip and trumpeting shrilly as if to say, “Wait for me! Wait for me!”
Later we would spend a half-hour watching a lone male bull eating—tearing branches off the mopane trees with his enormous trunk, curling it to hold them, stripping leaves and chomping noisily, just feet away.
I had never seen such a magnificent beast. He was enormous. His skin was deeply furrowed and crazed with creases. His tusks were grand. If there was ever an emblem of the African wild, this massive elephant was it. Yet I was equally enchanted by the week-old infant we later saw along the banks of the Chobe River, so tiny it could take shelter in the shade beneath its mother’s belly.
Being in the presence of wild elephants held a special magic for me. And so it was with anguish that I watched the ivory remains of some 2,000 elephants destroyed by the U.S. government last week, an event I was privileged to witness alongside senior government officials and representatives from WWF and other conservation organizations.
WITNESSING THE DESTRUCTION OF THE U.S. IVORY STOCKPILE
The crush consigned some six tons of confiscated illegal ivory – the full U.S. stockpile – to a massive rock crusher erected at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver. The event, designed for symbolic impact, was meant as an unequivocal statement to the world that the United States will not support ivory trafficking in any form.
The pile of ivory before us, as we stood on the plains beneath a sky too bright and too blue for such a somber event, was sobering. There were giant tusks weathered brown with age, white tusks polished smooth, tusks carved with intricate scenes and images. On an adjacent table were ivory figurines – many were Buddhas, crafted for the largely Asian buyers’ market. And nearby was a rectangular glass bin filled five feet high with ivory jewelry and trinkets: bracelets, earrings, talismans – a full ton contained herein alone.
The first tusks were placed, silently, reverently, into the steel bucket of a front-end loader by representatives of the conservation groups on hand. More....