Africa’s elephant population was cut from an estimated 1.3 million to some 600,000 in the 70’s and 80’s by poaching. The slaughter was at that point driven by Japan’s economic boom, a haunting reality as the new crisis is driven by hungry Asian markets, which are responsible for as much as 70 percent of the poached ivory.
Commandeering high demand, this vast middle class has pushed the price of ivory. Last year, it cost 15,000 Yuan (modern Chinese currency) to buy a miniature dragon boat carved of ivory it now sells for 40,000 Yuan.
An International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) survey shows that the price of raw ivory has risen by 50 percent in the last year from 989 Yuan in 2008 to 15,000 Yuan a kilogramme.
The effect of that high demand has Tanzania along with many other African countries, which once boasted large herds of elephants roaming the plains, losing 30 elephants every day, from 2006 to 2009, equivalent to 30,000 slaughtered or an average of 10,000 every year.
The country with the estimated total elephant population of between 110,000 and 140,000 elephants makes it one of the largest sanctuaries in Africa. But these may not be there in the next ten years, if no firm urgent measures are taken now to put a stop to the slaughter.
Educating Chinese shoppers about the bloody origins of their purchase would help. So an advertising campaign has been started, featuring Chinese celebrities, like Yao Ming, a basketball star, urging people not to buy products from endangered species. “When the buying stops, the killing can too.”
But the problem runs deep, from folklore claiming wisdom in the tusks to sheer ignorance. A survey showed that 70 percent of Chinese shoppers in Guangzhou and Fuzhou thought tusks can fall out and grow back; that getting ivory did not mean the elephant is killed!
On a more optimistic note, more than 80 percent would reject ivory products and not buy any more if they knew elephants were being killed.
Ivory, like blood diamonds, is funding many rebel groups in Africa. Coveted in Asia, their tusks bring in bloody sums funding wars across the continent. Militia groups and rebels mow down the animals with heavy arms to finance their wars. Militant Islamist al-Shabab in Somalia, the Janjaweed of Sudan and the notorious Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda are all turning the savannahs of central Africa into killing fields
Mwalimu Nyerere, early in his administration of the newly independent Tanzania, committed the country to conservation of the elephants saying: "These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and of our future livelihood and well being."
We must at all costs keep our side of the covenant to protect the wildlife in our midst for the future generations.
Elephants are highly emotional and completely guileless, they mourn their dead and given the status, across Africa, elephants are grieving daily.