The Elephants Need Help


Kenya’s Ivory For Burning, Saturday 30th April 2016.   Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

It is to be hoped that Kenya’s April 2016 burning of poached ivory – around 105 tonnes of the stuff, from about 6,000 illegally killed elephants, together with 1.5 tonnes of rhino horn – will make headlines around the world. Everything that can be done to raise awareness of the existential threat to these magnificent species must be worthwhile.

No-one can doubt that the elephants need help, against a background of near-catastrophic decline in recent decades. In the early 1980’s, when I  visited Kenya, the African elephant was already in serious trouble. A population that had been estimated at 1.3 million in 1979 was on a slide that would descend to about half that number by 1989. Today the figure is down again, to around 400,000. Yet poachers are currently killing more than are being born, in spite of determined efforts prevent the slaughter, and the serious penalties in place for illegal ivory trading.

This destruction of Kenya’s ivory stockpile is part of an ongoing drive to cut down poaching and reduce demand, the latter surely being the key factor, and it’s not the first time such a bonfire has taken place. In 1989 Kenya destroyed a symbolic 12 tonnes of tusks, in the same year that CITES (The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of flora and fauna) banned ivory trading.

So far, so good, you would have thought, but mistakes were to be made. In 2008, under pressure from various governments, the ban was ‘temporarily’ lifted to allow countries to sell the stockpiles they held. The British government, for one, believed that this would help reduce poaching by flooding the market. However, it did no such thing, but seemed instead to stimulate demand and, in consequence, a resurgence in illegal poaching. According to Will Travers, the President of Born Free, more than 200,000 elephants were killed in the subsequent years.

It remains a serious problem.  A proportion of the killings, as highlighted by a recent BBC program, are by poor people attempting to support their families,


photo: Zdenek Malu/Alamy

and for them we can all feel some sympathy; but the majority are the work of organised, international gangs, as evidenced by Interpol’s estimate that the annual world trade in illegal wildlife products amounts to between 10 and 20 billion pounds.

What can be done? A new worldwide ban on ivory trading is needed, and Kenya’s President Kenyatta has reportedly said that he will press for one at a forthcoming CITES meeting in South Africa, in September. We can support him in that by making sure that our political representatives are aware that he needs the backing of all our governments.

In addition, if you’d like to help elephants by getting involved on a personal level, you can support the Born Free charity simply by becoming a member, or by ‘adopting’ an elephant for yourself, or as a gift – especially to children. What child would not be thrilled by that, especially knowing that they will be helping to protect the worlds largest and most magnificent land mammal from extinction?

For Information about World Elephant Day, which is in August, and about other elephant charities, see also the World Elephant Day Website. Here are the links:

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