Can you imagine a world without wild elephants? The very thought of it makes me cringe. Yet that is what we face, according to a report released today at the African Elephant Summit in Botswana.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the wild elephant population has plummeted from 550,000 as recently as 2006 to 470,000 in 2013. In East Africa alone the population of elephants has dropped by 1/3, the result of savage poaching and wanton killing by warring factions. By the best estimates, we will create an unsustainable wild elephant population within the next 20 years!
As a lifelong conservationist and wildlife/landscape photographer, I am appalled by this senseless attack on wild elephants. I am also ashamed that my fellow humans traffic in these and other magnificent beasts merely to feed the insatiable appetite for nonsensical folk remedies. I’m not going to pull punches here, folks. This perpetual slaughter is occurring for one reason and that is to satisfy the Dark Ages beliefs of some Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais and other Asian populations. Elephants are not the only casualties. Tigers are killed, skinned where they fall and their gonads cut out to supply Asian men with powders to supposedly increase their virility. Eyewitness accounts describe poachers who use chainsaws to cut out elephant tusks while the animals are still alive, downed by high power rifles. And for what? To sell ivory carvings that people believe will bring them luck and prosperity. How incredibly sad!
Elephants are sentient beings with a tightly knit social structure. Anyone watching a herd of elephants cannot help but be struck by the care that mothers and aunts provide the babies. They touch each other constantly, wash each other, play together and discipline youngsters who get out of line. Whenever I go to Africa or Sri Lanka, I send images home to my grandchildren, hoping to encourage them to see these magnificent animals in their native habitats when they get older. I pray that elephants will still be there when my grandchildren arrive. At this rate, they just might not be.
Please take a few minutes to donate to one of the many organizations that research and defend elephant, tiger and other endangered animal populations. You’ll be investing in this wondrous planet that your children and grandchildren, our future photographers, will inherit.