[Editor's note: February is "Africa Month" on 13.7 Billion Years, focusing on biodiversity, conservation, sustainable development and ethical consumption.]
"In the last year, approximately 250 elephants were killed in Chad," according to a press release issued last week by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "It is thought that most of the poachers were from Sudan. The ivory sales are used to finance arms purchases and other illicit enterprises but large quantities of ivory are also illegally shipped to Asia to satisfy the growing demand for that product."
"The size of the haul indicates that a well-organised team of poachers was involved likely divided into teams of shooters and carriers," said IFAW elephant poaching Céline Sissler-Bienvenu.
"They may have used horses, camels or cars to transport the ivory out of Chad. But it is difficult to know for certain. In the past, ivory poaching was committed by non-Chadians and has fueled conflict in Darfur in the Sudan and the Central African Republic. Chadians have also disguised themselves in foreign clothing to throw suspicion onto others."
Elephant poaching is immoral and irresponsible, but the Asian demand for ivory is both those things -- and also illogical. And while African park rangers struggle mightily against well-armed poachers, it is the ivory consumer in Asia who starts this chain of events that ultimately leads to elephants being brutally slaughtered and humans acting like barbarians.
According to IFAW, there were only 2,500 elephants remaining in Chad as of last year, down from 4,000 individuals counted in 2006. The rate of killing is simply shocking -- an almost 40% drop in just four years.
"Elephants are in crisis," said Sissler-Bienvenu. "The ivory trade continues to flourish and seizures of illegal ivory are scratching the surface of this multi-million euro business."
Demonstrating a remarkably wide range of complex behaviors that indicate compassion, grief, learning, memory, mothering, play, tool use, self-awareness and language, there is no doubt that elephants are one of the smartest animals, a fact that is certainly connected to its large brain size. When in comes to native intelligence, elephants are ranked next to primates and cetaceans.
So it's not a surprise that one of Buddhism's "Seven Jewels of Royal Power" is the "Precious Elephant," which symbolizes the calm and noble strength of one who is on the path towards enlightenment.
There are few precious elephants left. And unfortunately for them, there are frighteningly too many Asian consumers who are not on the same enlightened path.
- Sign an Avaaz.org petition urging the 175 parties of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to reject any exemptions in the global ban on the ivory trade, to extend that ban for at least 20 years, and to take all necessary steps to enforce that ban and protect the elephants
- Adopt an elephant from the World Wildlife Fund for $25
- Donate to Save the Elephants
- Buy Coming of Age with Elephants: A Memoir, by Joyce Pool (Amazon.com)
- Subscribe to Elephant Voices
- Follow 13.7 Billion Years on Twitter
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image: an elephant killed for its ivory in Amboseli National Park, Kenya (credit: ElephantVoices)