Only 1% of the African elephant population remains from 100 years ago. Ivory poaching is no longer an opportunistic crime carried out by individuals, it is perpetrated by highly sophisticated, heavily armed units of poachers who are wreaking havoc amongst the elephant and rhino populations of Africa.
Generally tasked by offshore organized crime syndicates to pursue ivory, these units employ vehicles, high powered rifles, radios and, in some cases, helicopters in conjunction with military style tactics to wipe out their targets.
Killing for tusks is a particularly gruesome trade. Elephants are highly intelligent animals whose sophisticated social ties are exploited by poachers. They will often shoot young elephants to draw in a grieving parent.
Anti-poaching rangers continue to lose their lives in the ongoing battle raging against these outfits and their vicious tactics.
It is estimated that up to 37,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year for their ivory. 70% of this ivory is taken to Asia where it is used for carvings and signature stamps called Hankos.
The decision in 2008 to allow a one-off sale of 109 tonnes of ivory after a 20 year international ban has reinvigorated the black market. This decision was prompted by a theory that the billions of dollars in revenue generated by ivory sales could help boost the economies of these developing nations in Africa, and even be used to fund conservation efforts for wildlife in those areas. With vast amounts of money easily accessible, it’s understandable why the sales, under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) supervision, were permitted.
Many voiced concerns that opening up the market – even a legal one – would ignite the illegal trade, along with the violence, conflict, and animal suffering associated with the black market. And, as we now know, this is exactly what happened. Ivory poaching is now taking place on unprecedented rates not seen since the 1980s, referred to as the 'Ivory Holocaust'.
Careful consideration and planning must be given to any similar practices in the trade of rhino horn which is scheduled for discussion.
The Big Fella’s Future
At the current rate of extermination, elephants will be extinct by 2025. Unlike the public outcry that led to the ivory ban in 1989, in 2013 there is widespread international ignorance of the elephants’ struggle.
Reports stating that African elephants have been – and continue to be – culled due to overpopulation, have misled the western community to believe that elephant numbers are high. Elephant population control is needed in some instances, but this is not indicative of the overall picture. The African elephant is now all but extinct on the west coast of Africa, but over-populating places like Chobe and Hwange National Parks. Different areas need different methods of conservation.
There is a common belief that large shipments of seized ivory were made up of small collections from a number of different sources across a large area. However, DNA sampling revealed that most shipments were a collection of tusks from a single area. In combination with other sources and evidence, this shows that orders for ivory are placed and then poachers assault the same area over and over again until the quota has been fulfilled. This wholesale killing causes major devastation to local populations and ecosystems. It also suggests that only a handful of syndicates are responsible for ordering much of Africa’s elephant poaching.
Recent seizures of large ivory hauls in Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan support opinions that last year’s sale of ivory to the East has whet their appetite for the pearly treasure. Add to this the region’s recent economic growth, and there is a very clear and present danger to the future of the elephant - Africa's iconic species.