About The Poaching Crisis

Global warming, hunger, violence, inequality, poverty, illiteracy - these are just a few of the many problems confronting our world today.  So, you may be asking yourself, with all of these serious issues, why do elephants matter?   The answer is that we cannot sit back and allow the senseless slaughter of thousands of innocent animals to continue.  Elephants are the largest land-living mammals and among the most intelligent animals on earth.  Adult elephants have no natural predators; the main threat to elephants is from humans.  Humans kill elephants for their ivory tusks and humans destroy the elephants’ habitats.  Because the threat to elephants comes from us, only we can stop the madness.  And if we ignore or forget the elephants, how can we be sure that we simply won’t ignore or forget the other crises confronting our world?

Killing African elephants for their ivory is devastating the species.  In 1979, the elephant population in Africa was approximately 1.3 million.  Today, there are fewer than a third of that number.  What accounts for this dramatic decline? The primary cause is poaching.  According to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, at least 30,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2012.  In Tanzania alone, poachers kill an average of 30 elephants a day.  In one two day period in early 2013, at least 86 elephants were killed in southwestern Chad. Among those victims were more than 30 pregnant females, many of whom aborted their calves when they were shot. The calves were left to die, and reportedly some also were shot.  This incident occurred just weeks after the discovery of 28 elephant carcasses, all stripped of their ivory tusks, in Cameroon.

These elephants were all murdered for one reason – the demand for their ivory is at an all time high.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the demand came from the United States and Western Europe whose purchases of ivory keyed pianos, billiard balls and hairbrushes resulted in the deaths of millions of elephants. Today, the main source of demand for ivory is Asia, and China is the leading market.  

As part of their research for the National Geographic Special, The Battle for the Elephants, the producers surveyed consumers in China and the results were startling.  Ivory ownership in China is high: eight out of ten households surveyed owned at least one ivory product, with 2.7 pieces on average per household.  Ivory is considered a luxury item, a rarity, and 87 percent of those surveyed think that ivory ownership confers prestige.  A shocking 84 percent of the Chinese middle and upper-middle class consumers surveyed plan to buy ivory goods in the future.  If 84 percent of the Chinese middle and upper-middle classes plan to buy even the smallest of trinkets, that’s more than two million items. This represents a very grim future for elephants.   

The study also found that video and billboard advertisements in China that show how poaching is threatening Africa’s elephant population largely fail to deter consumers.  A majority of those surveyed believe that making ivory “illegal to purchase under any circumstances” or “the strong recommendation of a government leader” would be the most effective way to stop ivory trading.  Currently in China some ivory can be sold legally.  This leads to consumer confusion and, as the survey revealed, a belief that ivory ownership is acceptable rather than shameful.

The fight to save the elephants is a battle on many fronts.  Efforts are underway to strengthen the protections afforded elephants under CITES.  Many organizations are working to increase collaboration with the Chinese—people and government—to stem the demand that fuels the poachers.  And last, but far from least, efforts are underway in Africa to protect the elephants from poachers and to create alternative sources of income for those people in Africa who see poaching as their only means of survival.

Approximately one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes by poachers for its ivory tusks. We must stop the demand for ivory, stop the illegal trade, and stop the killing of these majestic animals.