By Don Pinnock
All over the world today people who care are celebrating and paying homage to the greatest of earth’s animals, the elephant. A century ago there were around four million in Africa and Asia. Today this number is between 420 000 and 658 000 and dropping.
For centuries people have felt a strange kinship with these great grey animals. Elephants are the only creature other than ourselves that celebrate a birth and mourn death. They trumpet in pure joy when a calf is born and fondle the bones of their dead, seemingly deep in thought.
In India they are revered as god Ganesh. In African fables the elephant is always the wise chief who impartially settles disputes among forest creatures. They’re featured on the national flags of Siam, Laos and the Ivory Coast.
In Zulu tradition the Indhlovu (elephant) clan are the line of paramount chiefs. And when the Ashanti of Ghana find a dead elephant in the forest, they give it a chief’s burial.
In the beginning it may have been this respect for elephants that made an ivory object desirable and precious. But in the modern world of commerce and high-calibre weapons, desire and greed has trumped respect and four elephants an hour are now falling to poacher guns. There is a general misconception – supported by those who wish to profit from ivory sales – that there are too many elephants in Africa and that, because of this, they are destroying their environment. Intensive research by organisations such as Elephants Without Borders has found that elephant numbers are self-stabilising and do not require culling to protect their habitat.
Proponents often claim culling is necessary to preserve biodivesity reasons: elephants push over trees. But this is part of the natural relationship between forest and grassland and without elephants trees would overwhelm the food supply of grazers. In the Kruger park, culling had no positive effect on the vegetation and neither has the cessation of culls. The consensus amongst scientists is that culling can only be justified on aesthetic grounds and that this is not an adequate reason. More....