What is the danger in killing elephants for ivory?

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An adult elephant has no real natural predators in the wild.  The larger carnivores sometimes attack the young but generally speaking elephants have little to fear from other animals, except man of course. The African elephant is one of the most endangered species on our plant.  Since the 19th century when European colonization began in earnest, this animal has been under threat from: decreased habitat, population growth, agricultural expansion and the ivory trade.  Unlike its Asian counterpart, the African elephant has never been domesticated and has been regarded as a source of meat and ivory for centuries.  In 1977, 1.3 million elephants lived in Africa; by 1997, only 600,000 remained.

Today, many of Africa’s elephant exist only in reserves and game parks where they are protected by teams of game rangers who follow an aggressive program of anti-poaching enforcement.  Some of the most successful preservation programs are in Botswana and South Africa.  These countries, recognizing the value of the elephant in eco-tourism, have proactively managed their small remaining herds and are among the only places in Africa where the elephant population is on the increase.  Animals from South Africa and Botswana are being used to start breeding herds in other African countries thereby restoring the elephants to places where they have not existed for decades. This has not stopped the threat from the illegal ivory trade.  Poachers are extremely active and resourceful.  AK47′s have replaced the rifle and require a lot less skill on the part of the poacher.  For impoverished villagers, who may have had their crops destroyed by a hungry group of elephants, poaching offers a possible solution to a very real problem.

By educating affected local populations to the advantages of eco-tourism and crop protection, poachers would not be tolerated since they would be destroying a resource that could benefit the whole village.  This is a popular school of thought and one that is gaining ground.  It is practiced very effectively in the Amboseli and Nairobi National Parks where the money generated from eco-tourism goes directly back to the local Masai communities.

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