Vintage Photos Show How Americans Killed 10 Million Elephants – and Why We Need to Care Now


Kat Smith, One Green Planet

Date Published


See link for vintage photos.

It is estimated that nearly 100 elephants are poached for their tusks every day. It might be hard to believe, but if we look at how the elephant population has been in decline since the start of ivory trade, it all adds up. Between 2003 and 2013, the African elephant population declined by 65 percent due to poaching. It’s estimated that their populations will need 90 years to recover from the damage. But, these recent years aren’t the only time that elephants have suffered at the hands of humans.

To put things in a historical context, in 1800, an estimated 20 million elephants lived in Africa. But, as the demand for ivory in the United States rose, driven by industrialization and mass production that made it possible to transform tusks – that once belonged to intelligent, compassionate giants – into piano keys, combs, and trinkets, their populations began to decline rapidly. By the year 1918, the elephant population had dropped to around 10 million. The United States was consuming at least 200 tons of ivory annually and by 1989, when a worldwide ban on ivory sales was placed, there were a mere 600,000 African elephants left in the wild.

In 1989, a worldwide ivory ban put a stop to legal ivory trade, but only for a short period of time. In 1997, when trade on a “stockpile” of ivory was permitted, demand for elephant tusks rose once again.

Today, poachers take the life of one African elephant every fifteen minutes. To us, tusks are frivolous items, like antique piano keys, combs, and home decor. But it tears families apart.

At the rate that poachers are killing African elephants, it’s estimated that they will go extinct within the next 20 years. Humans are responsible for the damage and humans are the only ones who can help save this majestic species. Luckily, there have been a few positive changes in legislation. The United States and China, the two largest consumers of ivory in the world, have taken a tougher stance on ivory trade and President Obama enacted a near-total ban on ivory, save the cases of pieces that are antiques that were legally imported. We still have a long way to go if we are going to save this species from extinction and right now, every little step helps.