Elephants’ future in jeopardy
WORLD Elephant Day yesterday provided an excellent opportunity to ponder the future of this great, majestic animal. The message is stark: the world’s elephant population is nearing a critical point and unless drastic action is taken, they will, in the not-too-distant future, disappear from our wilds. And so shall part of humankind’s heritage.
The ivory trade is a major cause of declining numbers of wild elephants, as poachers continue to hunt endangered species for their valuable tusks.
In 1800 there may have been 26 million elephants in Africa. A century ago there were an estimated 5 million elephants on this continent.
Today, there are less than half a million. On average, at least 55 elephants are killed by poachers every day for their tusks. That’s one every 25 minutes.
Their range has shrunk exponentially over the years, and they are now extinct in the Middle East, on the Indonesian island of Java, in northern Africa and most of China.
Almost everywhere, these nomads are restricted to ever-decreasing pockets of land.
The international trade in illegal ivory is estimated to be worth more than R300 billion each year.
Why are elephants important to our lives and to nature? The National Geographic explains eloquently: “Elephants are vital to the web of life in Africa. As a keystone species, they help balance all the other species in their ecosystem, opening up forest land to create firebreaks and grasslands, digging to create water access for other animals, and leaving nutrients in their wake.
“Sometimes called the mega-gardeners of the forest, elephants are essential to the dispersal of seeds that maintain tree diversity.”
In South Africa, the number of elephants killed by poachers has jumped by almost a third, according to official figures.
A total of 67 elephants were poached from the Kruger National Park, and one in KwaZulu-Natal, last year. This is a leap from 46 elephants the year before.
Compared with the numbers of rhino poached for their horns in South Afrca – 1 054 in 2016 and 1 028 in 2017 – the numbers look promising, but it’s just a matter of time before poachers turn their full attention to ivory.