Ivory Trade in Africa
1 The Sun blazed relentlessly. In the steaming heat of the African summer afternoon, the herd of female elephants browsed lazily. They had been awake much of the night before, eating grass and leaves in the Eastern savannas of Senegal, on the west coast of the great continent. Elephants spend 16 hours a day eating, and only 4–5 hours sleeping.
2 A 9-month-old calf nestled in the shade of her private "tent," formed by her mother’s four legs and belly. The baby rarely left her mother’s side. Elephant calves remain within yards of their mothers for the first nine years of their lives. If they stray further away, their mothers are quick to find them. Every day the mother deftly bathes her baby by sucking water into her trunk and spraying the refreshing shower over the baby. Then she makes mud for the baby to roll in. Mud relieves elephants from the heat of the Sun.
3 The Senegal calf’s mother seemed to have infinite patience with her. She was always close by, ready to affectionately entwine trunks, playfully nudge her, or gently support her over difficult terrain. Elephants are known to be family-oriented animals who lavish tender, loving care on their young and maintain close ties with them. While young males leave the herd at around 12 years of age, the bond between mother and daughter elephants can last up to 50 years.
4 The calf, lounging under her mother’s belly, felt sleepy. Lulled by the sounds of the savanna and the comforting presence of the herd around her, she felt relaxed and safe. She knew that the herd’s matriarch was close by. As the oldest female in the family group, the matriarch provided the leadership for the herd. All members of the herd looked to the "grandmother" for direction. When she fed, they fed. When she began to move on, the herd regrouped and followed her. The matriarch provided security and order for her herd.
5 A shrill trumpeting sound suddenly splintered the tranquility of the afternoon. The calf pulled herself up to a standing position as her mother raised her head to study the commotion around her. Other adults moved towards her, herding their young ahead of them. The group quickly formed a circle with three calves in the middle. The matriarch stood with her head raised, trunk straight up in the air, sniffing. Her ears spread out in a position of alarm.
6 The shots were heard before any of the elephants perceived human presence. The elephants began to panic, but they stood by their young. No one had been hurt. The matriarch began to flee in the opposite direction from the shots. The rest of the group followed, herding their young ahead of them. Elephants can stride up to 25 miles per hour, a speed much faster than humans on foot can keep pace with. The herd was able to put distance between themselves and their only real predator.
7 Later, as night fell, the herd settled in a new area. The poacher was obviously inexperienced. None of the herd was killed. A more skilled hunter would have possibly slaughtered the entire herd. He would have come closer to the peaceful animals before firing. He may have used a more powerful gun. Even if the herd had circled, he would have targeted the matriarch and felled her first.
8 Skilled poachers know that elephants are some of the most social animals in the world. They are loyal to their herd, their young, and their leader. If a matriarch falls, the others will not leave her. Even in the face of death, they will surround their fallen companion. Elephants on either side of her would use their trunks and feet in an effort to get her to stand. This refusal to leave a downed relative, however, makes the elephants "sitting ducks." The poacher is able to kill one after the other. Entire herds are wiped out in this way.
9 What do poachers want with a herd of elephants? They only want their tusks. The tusks provide ivory, a valuable material that can be sold illegally in many countries, including the United States. Ivory is used to make craftwork such as statues, jewelry, and carvings. For this ivory, poachers saw off the tusks of the ambushed elephants and leave the dead animals where they lay.
10 Because of people’s desire for ivory, African elephants are now on the list of endangered species. This list was created by a 1973 U.S. law to identify animals that are in need of human protection. Still, it was during the 1970s and 1980s that the most catastrophic loss of elephants to ivory hunters took place. Many countries in Africa lost up to 80% of their elephant population during that time.
11 In 1989, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) imposed a world-wide ivory ban and recommended the most stringent protection possible for the African elephant. Since that time, the elephant population has rebounded somewhat, but illegal slaughter still continues in some African countries. As long as there is a market for ivory somewhere in the world, poachers will continue to hunt for their cash reward.
12 The elephant calf and her herd grazed and slept through the night. She forgot about the terror of the previous day. She was once again cradled in the safety of her family. She had no way of knowing that her chances for survival, for another year or for many years to come, depended on the will of international agencies and on people’s decision to shun all products made from the tusks of her beloved family.