By Daniel Nzohabonimana
More than 100,000 African elephants were killed in three years as ivory prices have tripled in Chinese workshops
Back in 2008 I visited Lac Manyara National park in Tanzania. I was fortunate to spend a wonderful time staring at a wide variety of wildlife that inhabits the park which consists of 330 km2. It was my first time to see an elephant face to face apart from watching them on TV.
That was an awesome experience to be near the largest of all land animals. I was impressed by how they are humble and harmless. They don`t care about people being around them and just keep on grazing. One cannot fail to fell attached to them by the kind of peace that reigns in their surroundings.
Unfortunately I have been coming across reports indicating that the beloved creatures are on the verge of extinction because of poaching activities. Elephants are being regularly killed in Africa because of their ivory that is in high demand in China and elsewhere in Asia.
Though they are harmless, elephants are slaughtered by poachers in a most dramatic way. It is reported that in 2012 hundreds of elephants were killed using automatic weapons in Bouba Ndjidah National Park in Cameron. Poachers have gone as far as hunting them by using poisonous arrows just to make sure that they get their precious tusks.
An article that was published in National Geographic last year reported that more than 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012. That is roughly one of every twelve African elephants.
According to a new study by ivory researchers, the prices of their ivory has tripled over the last four years in China, the world`s biggest market. After touring hundreds of Chinese retail outlets and factories in May last year, ivory experts Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne found out that ivory average prices were US$ 2100 per kilogram. In 2010 ivory prices were estimated at US$ 750 in the same market.
Colorado state university researchers estimate that in 1979, elephants numbered 1.3 million in Africa but in 2007 their number had fallen to between 472,000 and 690,000. This is a tragic situation whereby a half of their population was decimated in just two decades.
Elephants are one of the wildlife that attracts millions of visitors to Africa. Tourists travel thousands of miles to just contemplate and experience the emotion of being around the largest animal in the world.
Will they be able to do so in a half century? I doubt it will be possible if current trends of elephants poaching keep on going. The end result is that our planet will lose genetic diversity they are contributing on the African continent.
George Wittemyer of Colorado University was quoted in National Geographic saying that elephants are keystone species as they balance all the other species in the ecosystem. He noted that they open up forest land to create firebreaks and grasslands, digging to create water access for other animals, and living nutrients in their wake. Elephants are essentially playing a key role to disseminate seeds that maintain tree diversity.
International convention between governments such as CITES were put in place to halt this trend. But I doubt if this will be enough due to the rising demand of ivory, mainly from China whose traditions have long valued ivory for both art and utilitarian objects.
To safeguard elephants survival will require concrete actions from the international community especially China and other Asian countries. Otherwise in the near future, elephants will only be found in history books or on the internet.