Obama Says That Urgent Action is Needed to Save Elephants from Going Extinct


Oliver Milman, The Guardian

Date Published

Barack Obama has said that urgent action is needed to save elephants from becoming extinct in the wild, adding that failure to do so would be an “unpardonable loss for humanity and the natural world”.

The president said that the US has made “unprecedented progress” in protecting wildlife domestically and helping combat the poaching trade that is decimating elephant numbers in Africa, but that he was concerned that that the trunked beasts could still be wiped out.

“We currently face the risk of losing wild elephants during my lifetime,” Obama said. “It’s an unbelievable statement. It’d be an unpardonable loss for humanity and the natural world. 

“There’s no question: we need to take urgent action to save one of the planet’s most majestic species and address the security threat posed by insurgency groups and dangerous criminal networks whose trade in ivory and other resources funds their activities.”

In an interview with the Humane Society on World Wildlife Day, Obama said his administration has put resources into finding and prosecuting poachers as well as agreeing with China to place mutual restrictions on the import of ivory. He said he “won’t let up” on efforts to protect elephants in his final year as president.

Data released on Thursday showed that more African elephants are being killed for ivory than are being born. Around 60% of elephant deaths are at the hands of poachers, meaning the overall population is most likely to be falling. An elephant is killed by poachers, often working for wealthy interests in China and elsewhere in Asia, roughly every 20 minutes. 

The first progress report of Obama’s task force on wildlife trafficking, also released on Thursday, claimed success in Operation Crash, an investigation into ivory and rhino horn smuggling that has led to 20 convictions to date in American courts. More than 2,000 enforcement officials have been trained in 40 countries to protect an array of wildlife.

Obama said he was proud of his achievements protecting wildlife during his tenure, including measures to combat illegal fishing, the phasing out of government research on chimpanzees and a plan to save the greater sage-grouse.

In a wide-ranging defense of what will be his legacy on the protection of the natural world, Obama said the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership will provide the “toughest environmental protections of any trade agreement in history” and that conservation has already been strengthened in the US.

“We can say that we’ve made unprecedented progress restoring once-declining wildlife populations in the United States and recovering animals that were once endangered,” Obama said.

“Animals like the humpback whale and the Louisiana black bear are on the mend. Those bears are big. And while I wouldn’t want to tangle with one, I’m glad my kids and grandkids will have the chance to see them in action. 

“But our planet is still facing an extinction crisis. My administration has made it a priority to continue to find solutions that will reverse the course we’re on, using every tool available to protect our natural resources for future generations. I’m working on delivering as many victories on this front as possible, permanently protecting more public land and water than any of my predecessors.”