They’re popular attractions at zoos and well-known characters in animated movies, but our relationship with elephants has turned sour over time. The Bodhi Tree Foundation estimates that 90 percent of the African Elephant population has been slaughtered in the past 50 years.
SaveAfricasElephants.com paints a bleak picture. “At this rate, the elephant — a keystone species and beloved African icon — faces extinction by 2025.” As ivory demand has gone up, so has elephant poaching around the world. Not only does this dangerous industry effect the elephant population, it also undercuts Africa’s tourism industry, which provides jobs and livelihood for thousands of African citizens.
The Poaching Industry
The rapid deterioration of the elephant population didn’t happen randomly. It was backed by the powerful ivory industry that provides luxury goods. In 2006, a pound of ivory was worth $564, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Today, the same amount is worth $1,322. Wildlife conservationists hold China and Thailand responsible for the increasing problem of elephant poaching in Africa because the demand for ivory good in Asia is so high. According to The Diplomat, ivory and powder from rhino horns are valuable goods used for traditional ceremonies and religious and cultural purposes in many parts of Asia. The demand there is so great, the poaching problem in Africa has grown insurmountably.
To meet this insatiable demand, ivory distributors turn to elephant poachers who will do just about anything to get their payday. Some estimate that the ivory trade amounts to $12 billion per year. It’s a gruesome process in which poachers hunt for elderly elephants with the largest tusks. Most poachers use primitive weapons to kill, multiplying the suffering for these animals. These hunters violate the global ban on elephant poaching instituted in 1989, but they face little regulation in many African countries.
Elephants are a main draw for tourists, and their demise has secondary effects on those in the tourism industry in Africa. A spokesperson from The Bodhi Tree Foundation noted that 33.8 million tourists traveled to Africa in 2012, many to see the distinct wildlife. “Travel leaders all over the world recognize the implications of this crisis and need to take action immediate,” the organization says. Millions rely on the tourism to generate revenue in this impoverished region. While a select few poachers may be getting rich off of elephant tusks, countless others could be left without a way to make money.
Organizations like Deeper Africa promote ethical tourism that enables visitors to experience elephants in a socially responsible manner. Tourism professionals affected by poaching are hoping organizations will shine a spotlight on this growing problem.
Opposition to poachers is growing. Almost every major conservation group has a campaign dedicated to African elephants. The African Wildlife Foundation’s Say No Campaign aims to curb the demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia. TV Ads, billboards and PSAs reveal the seedy underbelly of the ivory industry. According to the AWF, just 33 percent of the population know that elephants are killed to obtain their ivory. The AWF is involved with a number of critical species, but the elephant population might be its most dire concern.
Conservation groups aren’t the only ones bringing this brutal practice out of the shadows. Celio Ho, nicknamed “The Elephant Girl, is only 14 years old, but she become a spokesperson for the movement to end poaching. Ho wrote a letter in her local Hong Kong newspaper and produced at 12-minute video detailing illegal poaching practices. Her message has gone global.