As the world celebrates these gentle giants, the stark reality remains that they face extinction all because poachers value their tusks more than these living creatures. And the situation in Africa is especially dire – with an elephant “poached at the rate of one every 15 minutes”.
The aim of World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants, and to share knowledge and positive solutions for better care and management of captive and wild elephants.
Accurate estimates suggest that there were 12 million elephants in the early 1900s. Currently that number is believed to be around 350 000, which includes both savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
That’s a 97% decline in a century.
To mark World Elephant Day, a stack of tusks handcrafted by local wire workers will be symbolically burned at the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve. Starting at 14:00 on 12 August, World Elephant Day, the event organized by the Conservation Action Trust is open to anyone interested in elephants and wanting to show their concern.
“This is an emotional ‘mock ivory burn’ to drawn attention to the plight of the African elephant and highlight the high risks of legalizing the ivory trade ahead of COP17, “says the Conservation Action Trust.
‘Protecting one of SA’s big five’
South African National Park has also joined the world in celebrating the annual international World Elephant Day.
SANParks Acting Head of Communication, William Mabasa says that South Africa is the home to the African elephant with several parks under SANParks being home to these gentle giants. “The African elephant also forms part of big five and is a sought after sighting in any park.”
Elephants are highly social animals and extremely intelligent. They have memories that span many years. These memories serve matriarchs well during dry seasons when they guide their herds, sometimes for many kilometres, to watering holes that they remember from the past. Elephant herds are led by the female, the Matriarch, who keeps the herd under control and chooses its direction and pace. Elephants also form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups.
The demand for ivory, which is highest in Asia, leads to the illegal poaching of elephants. In the last two years Mabasa says “SANParks has experienced some instances of poaching in the KNP and although elephants are poached for their ivory, they are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts. The illegal wildlife trade puts elephants increasingly in danger, because it is perceived to be a low risk and high profit endeavour.”
According to Mabasa the Kruger National Park (KNP) is home to some of the elephants with largest tusks in Southern Africa. These elephants are called Tuskers. “The Tuskers of Kruger have been a source of awe and inspiration around the world. Since the launch of the Magnificent 7 promotion in 1980, the public has continued to search for and identify the Magnificent 7.”
The emerging tusker project is another elephant initiative which aims to help the ‘big tusker’ legend live on in KNP, Scientists in the Kruger National Park are studying these impressive animals to identify all of the Park’s large tuskers and clearly define their home ranges.
Mabasa says, “This work helps to improve our understanding of these animals and ensures future visitors will be able to appreciate them.”
CITES CoP17 – why burn ivory?
In a bold effort to save Africa’s elephants, the Obama Administration has released strong, clear rules aimed at effectively shutting down the US ivory market, one of the world’s largest. This took place in June 2016. While the move does in fact make African elephants a little safer, we cannot escape the fact that South Africa refuses to destroy its ivory stockpile unlike the 25 other countries that have publically destroyed tonnes of ivory to highlight that ivory should not be traded
On World Elephant Day and leading up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17), in Johannesburg in September, the debate over what to do with stockpiled ivory is creating a sharp divide between those who favour the destruction of the stockpiles and others who believe they represent valuable financial assets.
Together with Zimbabwe and Namibia, South Africa has submitted a proposal to CoP17 that would clear the way to re-opening the international trade in ivory and allow them to apply for permission to legally sell ivory from their stockpiles in 2017. It is estimated that global stockpiles exceed 1000 tonnes. But many key authorities and conservationists believe that choosing to sell the ivory as opposed to burning it in order to send a strong message to poachers only fuels demand for the illegal item. Whether the move to allow the sale will happen remains to be seen.