By Stevenson Smith
Hillary Clinton recently made news when she unveiled an $80 million, three-year program aimed at mitigating or even ending elephant poaching in Africa. The program is the centerpiece of the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative, and several African nations and leaders as well as wildlife preservation advocates have joined the cause.
“Unless the killing stops,” said Clinton, “African forest elephants are expected to be extinct within 10 years. I can’t even grasp what a great disaster this is ecologically, but also for anyone who shares this planet to lose a magnificent creature like the African forest elephant seems like such a rebuke to our own values.”
The decline of the elephant population has been alarming in recent years, and it is directly related to the illegal ivory trade — a trade that has grown considerably since 2007. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species estimated that at least 25,000 elephants in Africa were killed in 2011.
This number, juxtaposed to the population of elephants on the continent as a whole, is not sustainable. There is something quite magnificent about the African elephant. They are the world’s largest surviving mammal and they demand respect — perhaps even benevolence.
But it is important to realize the true motivations behind conservation efforts, such as Clinton’s new initiative. It’s not about the elephant itself — how it feels, how it lives or how it thinks. In fact, it’s not about anything living at all. Instead, it’s about an inanimate, human-created concept — a species.
25,000 African elephants were killed for ivory in 2007 but in the United States alone, 42 million cows were killed for food that same year, and 110 million pigs were killed, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The experiences of pain and pleasure — and even evidence of strong rational capacities — are alive and well in all three types of animals: elephants, cows and pigs. If compared, evidence suggests pigs have a higher intelligence and capacity to feel pain than elephants. More....