An African elephant can weigh up to 14,000 pounds, which sounds like a creature scarcely in need of saving. There’s a saying about the 800-pound gorilla, and that would seem to go seventeen-fold for the elephant.
Except that’s obviously not true. The past century has not been kind to the elephant, and in most parts of Africa this massive animal is already on the verge of disappearing.
The statistics aren’t good. In the 1930s, there were at least three million elephants roaming the African continent. In fifty years, that figure was cut in half. Their ivory, highly coveted around the world, was banned from international trade in 1989. But that hasn’t stopped the problem. In fact, in some respects, it’s exacerbated it. Ivory is still domestically traded in China and Thailand, which has led to it tripling in price over a very short time. One kilogram of raw ivory can now fetch up to $2,100.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that over 35,000 elephants were killed in 2013.
Perhaps worst of all, the one nation that could have the largest impact on ivory-trading, China, has refused to take significant action. In fact, its government has been accused of tacitly encouraging black market trading by the Environmental Investigation Agency. In late 2014, the EIA reported that high-ranking Chinese government officials bought thousands of pounds of poached ivory in Tanzania during a diplomatic visit.
Elephants were already being poached for their ivory before the ban; now, they’re being slaughtered. Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington has predicted that if poaching trends continue, large groups of African elephants will be extinct by 2020. And it’s not only the elephants but their habitats that are disappearing.
Writing for The Breakthrough Institute, Jonathan S. Adams claims that habitat loss has actually impacted elephant populations harder than poaching. African development is set to eradicate 60 percent of elephants’ natural range in the next 40 years.
The tragedy is, live elephants are 76 times more valuable than dead ones to the African economy. That’s according to a 2014 report from the iWorry campaign, which provides a dollar value for an elephant’s lifetime in tourism and wildlife expenditures as opposed to the limited and lethal theft of their ivory.
The elephants are dying, and they need us to recognize their worth beyond their bloody tusks. There isn’t much time left to decide.