September 7, 2012

Elephants are one of nature’s supremely beautiful and most majestic creations.

Africa’s elephants are rapidly being slaughtered to extinction because of Asia’s lust for ivory. We should remember Gandhi’s maxim, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Last week, the New York Times took time off from urging war against Syria and Iran to run a major study on the destruction of Africa’s elephants. Africa once was home to 5-10 million elephants. Only some 600,000 remain, scattered across Africa. They are being rapidly massacred. In 2011, an estimated 4,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory.

According to the Times investigation, “Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter” conducted by bands of poachers and military units from nations, like Uganda and Congo that are financed by the United States.

Elephants are being shot from the air, poisoned, mowed down with automatic weapons. Their terrified babies, who won’t leave their mother’s bodies, usually die within 24 hours of shock and anguish.

A Kenya based charity, the Sheldrick Trust Wildlife, run by the magnificent Dame Daphne Sheldrick, goes into the bush to rescue orphaned baby elephants and nurse them back to life. Half the orphans still die from shock in spite of intense care. This writer is proud to help their work

China is believed to account for 70% of ivory imports, followed by Thailand and other Asian markets. Ivory goes for $1,000 per pound in China. Chinese still value ground rhino horns and elephants sexual organs as aphrodisiacs, though both have been proven totally ineffective.

Some African nations and international bodies have made extensive efforts to halt the illegal ivory trade and protect elephants. But there’s too much profit in this industrial elephant slaughter by poor African farmers, and the Asian crime syndicates that fuel this trade. Think of North America’s bison that once numbered in the millions, reduced by 1900 to only 1,000 animals.

Elephants are also partly to blame for their plight. As I have seen many times in southern Africa, they are hugely destructive to their habitat, tearing down trees to get at their tender top leaves, and trampling all underfoot. Elephants, the largest animals on earth, are vegetarians. Unlike most humans, they kill no living beings for their food.

Farmers are moving into elephant’s traditional habitat across Africa. So clashes are inevitable as farmers try to protect their crops. This same struggle goes on in India where wild Asian elephants often clash with farmers. Some Indian elephants have even developed a taste for home-made liquor.

Elephants can also be cranky: I recall running for my life in South Africa as an angry bull chased me. But I’ve also been within feet of herds of wild elephants in Botswana and Angola, and was awed by their dignity, might, and tender group care of their little ones.

Is there anything we can do to stop the mass slaughter of elephants? The only answers that come to this writer, who thinks a lot about animal welfare, are: a. ban all hunting of elephants, a despicable practice; b. impose long prison terms and heavy fines on ivory poachers; c. boycott ivory producers.
Those who hunt elephants, like the king of Spain, must face public opprobrium.

Most Chinese and many other Asians have poorly developed or non-existent concerns for animal welfare. The only way to stop their nations from allowing imports of ivory is by selective public boycotts of specific consumer goods, like clothing, chemicals, fish, pharmaceutical products, toys, etc. that they export to the west.

Threats of boycotts by the EU against nations inflicting cruelty on animals, like Canada with its primitive fur and seal trade, have been an excellent start.

Such action must be done by non-governmental organizations. If governments get directly involved, trade wars are likely. Consumer boycotts are the only practical way to inflict sufficient pain on importing nations to halt the odious ivory trade.

So it’s up to western animal welfare organizations and consumers to halt the butchery in Africa of the noble, highly intelligent elephant. If we fail, our moral progress, to paraphrase Gandhi, will rank below that of the hyena.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2012

“…If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the
shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise
with their fellow men…” — St. Francis of Assisi

This post is in: Africa, Animal Rights, Asia, Europe, North America


  1. indus creed says:

    Btw, India has just recently enacted a law empowering the forest guards of the IFS(Indian Forest Service) to shoot at poachers. Bengal tiger and the Asiatic lions are the two majestic cats under threat.

    Cheetah, which is an Indian word, is now extinct in India. However, the IFS is negotiating with Iran to supply a few Asiatic Cheetahs to repopulate the Indian forest with these fascinating cats. Leopards are doing somewhat better.

    India is also the home of panthers(black as well). A very cool cat.

  2. Great column Eric, but what products should we boycott? And could someone please tell these Chinese men that use the rhino horn and elephant parts for an aphrodisiac about Viagra! It actually works and they won’t have to support the slaughter and endangerment of these wonderful and increasingly rare animals.

  3. scissorpaws says:

    The rich part of the world needs to decide if we want to save these animals and if so, pony up the cash to pay the affected countries to set aside reserves for them. It would be relatively cheap. For the price of US supersonic bomber we could hire all the would be farmers to run “hunting lodges” for wilderness photographers and seed a vibrant tourist industry. Elephant sweatshirts and videos and limited access to the elephant lands for tourists, which would raise the price. Once their livelihoods depended on live, healthy elephants, the people would begin to treasure them. The only environment that is valued is one that pays cash to someone.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      Thank Goodness for the Newspaper. Its relevance is shown by these “In depth” articles to fuel the debate of good stewardship.
      I agree with your hypothesis. It is a starting point. A UN worldwide campaign would reach the most people if a unilateral donation (order 1 less B1B bomber for eg.) by the US is not forseeable. We have so much wealth, yet are afraid to spend it to benefit the animal ecosystem of which we belong. The Elephant may be the animal that brings out our stewardship, just as the has rallied the planets people around the maximum CO2 levels of 350 parts per million (it is now at 392 ppm and rising 2ppm per year).
      We are destroying our own ecosytem with runaway population growth that fuels uncontrolled destruction for resources and luxuries and our beautiful, unique co-inhabitants are suffering for our folly.
      ad iudicium

      • Unfortunately, reserves and conservation districts already exist in these countries for the very reason of protecting many of the animals that live there, including the elephant. The stereotypical African safari has the cliche it does because of these reserves. Surely you must be aware of the Serengeti NP, the Tsavo & Chyulu NP, Queen Elizabeth NP, or the Kalahari Gemsbok NP… all of which (and more) are found in the countries listed by Mr. Margolis above.

        The simple fact that these government-“protected” lands are wholly incapable of actually protecting anything seems to elude most people. What I find most surprising is that it eludes even Mr. Margolis, whom I have much respect for.

        No, the only way to protect these animals is to uphold true private property rights and to shift away from the government-run reserves and parks. Governments, especially in Africa, have proven themselves easily corruptible as well as incompetent to manage “public” property. Private individuals or co-ops have an intimately vested interest in actually protecting their properties. The money charged for park visitors (or even park-regulated hunting experiences) would be put back into the reserve and used to further the protection and continuance of the animals within.

        As much as Mr. Margolis talks to the likes of Lew Rockwell, I would’ve thought he’d be at least slightly persuaded by this anarcho-capitalistic and free market approach to things. Calling for increased government aid (or private aid to incompetent governmental organizations) is a reversal from much of what he usually writes about.

        • solum temptare possumus says:

          By the very nature of the business cycle your premise of private ownership will not stop poaching.
          When the Bullish cycle is in full swing, and employment is high, you may perhaps spend $6000.00 USD for an all inclusive Safari package to one of these private companies that steward their animals on private land.
          The governments will tax these lands and corportations and a withholding tax from the employed citizens.
          When the business cycle turns Bearish, and worldwide retrenchment occurs in the next Recession/Depression, the tourist dollar will plummet. These private corporations will need to do whatever is necessary to survive. The private tour guides will become culling hunters ordered to kill prized Bulls to pay their own wages and the governments taxes. Poaching will begin anew, with either the government telling their inspectors to look the other way, (if they have not been laid off), or they will accept bribes to lie on their reports. The cost of Ivory in China will be much higher than the currrent price (if poaching has been curtailed according to your premise during the Bullish cycle).
          The Elephant will be a pawn in the Global Busilness Cycle.
          My premise that it is the unchecked population of Homo Sapiens Modernensis has more validity than any economic system you wish to use. All other species are at risk. The Elephant with its longevity has been studied by man for many decades. We anthropomorphise the family unit we see. They may be at the forefront of our consciousness, as well as our cousin primates.
          The private sector will not stop the demand for Ivory in China. It will by market forces maintain it.
          as iudicium

  4. Judging by the behavior of the western governments and their thirst for war, driven by greed and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for power, already ranks man, the worst beast among all other animals, as morally bankrupt and well below that of the hyena.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      With this large evolved brain man really only thinks from the primitive ID. Survive, and procreate; all else can be cast aside.
      Perhaps the culling of homo erectus modernensis without killing is the answer. The temporary infertility of all mankind on a cyclical basis would decrease the population gradually to more responsible levels. Mankind could learn over these few centuries to become stewards and not destroyers.
      I would surmise that the greatest name known to school children in this future would be the scientist who invented for example, an airborne male sterility drug that would wear off in say 5 years. A flurry of fertility over say 3 months would be ended with another dose of the drug. Thereby maintaining generations and allowing deaths by old age to slowly decrease the population.
      This may be the only way to save the Elephants and all the other animals on the edge of extinction due to mankinds activities.

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