Killing for Tusks

Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Elephants are the largest living land animals on Earth today. They typically live for 50 to 70 years, but the oldest recorded elephant lived for 82 years. The word "elephant" has its origins in the Greek, meaning "ivory" or "elephant". According to observations, healthy adult elephants have no natural predators, although lions may take calves or weak individuals. They are, however, threatened by human intrusion and poaching.(1)

The threat to the African elephant presented by the ivory trade is unique to the species. Larger, long-lived, slow-breeding animals, like the elephant, are more susceptible to overhunting than other animals. They cannot hide, and it takes many years for an elephant to grow and reproduce. At the turn of the 20th century, it is estimated that elephants numbered between 5 and 10 million, but hunting and habitat destruction reduced their numbers to 400,000 to 500,000 by the end of the century. In the ten years preceding 1990 the population more than halved from 1.3 million to around 600,000. This was largely caused by the ivory trade, thus prompting an international ivory ban. While elephant populations are increasing in parts of southern and eastern Africa, other African nations report a decrease of their elephant populations by as much as two-thirds. Furthermore, even populations in even some protected areas are in danger of being eliminated Chad has a decades-old history of poaching elephants. This has caused the elephant population of the region, which had exceeded 300,000 in 1970, to drop to approximately 10,000 today.(1)

In recent months, Chad & Cameroon signed a pact to fight poaching on their lands. Both central African countries suffer from rampant poaching of elephants among other species for ivory headed mainly to Asian markets and for the bush meat trade.(2)  The protected area covers more than 300,000 hectares. Of that area, the Chadian side makes up only about 70,000 hectares but has most of the elephants, numbering around 3,000, 2,000 elephants less than there were five years ago. Cameroon's government says Bouba Ndjidda has just 300 elephants left. Measures taken to protect the elephants include better cooperation between authorities who manage the parks and boosting numbers of armed rangers. However, conservationists say poaching is worsening in both countries.(2)

A more general threat to elephants' survival is the ongoing cultivation of their habitats with an increasing risk of conflict of interest with human cohabitants. As larger patches of forest disappear, the ecosystem becomes affected in profound ways. The trees are responsible for anchoring soil and absorbing water runoff. Floods and massive erosion are common results of deforestation. Elephants need massive tracts of land because, much like the slash-and-burn farmers, they are used to crashing through the forest, tearing down trees and shrubs for food and then cycling back later on, when the area has regrown. As forests are reduced to small pockets, elephants become part of the problem, quickly destroying all the vegetation in an area, thus eliminating all their resources.(1)

Elephant hunting, both legal and illegal, has had some unexpected consequences on elephant anatomy as well. African ivory hunters, by killing only tusked elephants, have given a much larger chance of mating to elephants with small tusks or no tusks at all. The propagation of the absent-tusk gene has resulted in the birth of a large number of tuskless elephants, now approaching 30% in some populations (compared with a rate of about 1% in 1930). Tusklessness, once a rare genetic abnormality, has become a widespread hereditary trait. Elephants use their tusks to root around in the ground for necessary minerals, tear apart vegetation, and spar with one another for mating rights. Without tusks, elephant behavior could change dramatically.(1)

A bill has been created in efforts to protect the African Elephant as well as the Rhinoceros, Tiger, and Asian Elephant. To learn more about the bill, please visit here: Please circulate the information and call your elected officials to see how they can help pass this law and make it a reality to SAVE the elephants!

On a lighter note, check out this adorable orphan Shukuru in a rain coat at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Nairobi Elephant Nursery in Kenya.(3)