Elephants have played a vital role in Africa’s economic history. However, habitat loss and rampant poaching are threatening to wipe out the continent of its large and powerful pachyderms.
A few months ago, a body of Satao-2, one of Kenya’s last remaining giant tuskers, was recovered. Poachers used poisoned arrows to kill him. The 50-year-old was in his prime and belonged to a rare gene pool. Weighing almost seven tonne, these elephants have tusks that nearly graze the ground. Only 25 of these giant male tuskers survive across Africa.
Illegal trade in ivory continues to take a huge toll on the elephant population. Poachers poison water pools, use poisoned arrows, spears, explosives and even AK-47s to mow them down.
According to records, over 20 million elephants roamed the African jungles and savannas before the European Colonisation wave in 1870s which led to the ‘scramble’; an invasion, occupation and division of the African continent by European powers.
Decades of relentless ‘development’, hunting and poaching for ivory reduced the flourishing elephant population drastically. Some experts estimate that less than 3.5 lakh survive today. Over a 100 elephants are killed every day. Poachers are large organised gangs who even use helicopters to locate large herds. Horses and jeeps are used to corner herds of 100 elephants or more. They use rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s to kill the herd, including the calves. Heavily-armed park rangers patrol the parks now. Many lives have been lost in these skirmishes, but the poachers carry on.
The enigmatic symbol of Africa and a heritage of our planet, the elephant is being wiped out to feed the insatiable greed of a few. The Asian elephants, too, are in a crisis. In India, the notorious criminal poacher Veerappan had wiped out over a 1,000 tuskers leading to a skewered male-female ratio. India is left with just around 30,000 elephants.
Fragmented corridors, poisoning, electrocution, railway accidents and man-animal conflicts continue to kill many of them in India every year. Elephants have been an integral part of our culture, tradition and history—revered and respected as deity Ganesha.It’s when elephants move out of the degraded forests in search of food and water that they come into direct contact with farmers leading to man-animal conflict and loss of lives. The elephant is a global heritage and needs to be protected. China and Japan remain the largest market for ivory trade.
Extinction is a natural evolutionary process. But the catastrophic decimation of life forms that we are witnessing has been triggered by our greed. The earth has limitations. Perpetual development and exponential growth over the last decades have taken a major toll on earth’s resources.
We choose to remain blinkered and take shelter behind the word ‘progress’. It will be a matter of great shame for mankind if the most powerful animal that had been on earth for over 60 million years, becomes extinct while we stand by and watch.