The Obama administration is concerned about America’s participation in the ivory trade, because last year, over 20,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks. This past month, the world mourned for one of the most famous elephants in Africa after he was killed by poachers for his ivory. Satao had evaded poachers before. He was filmed by a wildlife filmmaker just prior to his death. Mark Deeble, the filmmaker, wrote of the elephant on his wildlife blog. He explained the event that made him realize that the intelligent creature was aware that his own tusks were something that could get him killed:
“He didn’t walk straight to the water. It took him almost an hour to cover the final kilometer as he slowly zig-zagged from one bush to another. The glint I’d seen, came whenever he turned his head and appeared to bury it in a bush. Each time he did, he’d wait a few minutes, partially hidden, then continued zig-zagging upwind, scenting the air, to check there wasn’t a poacher hidden at the waterhole. I was incredibly impressed, and incredibly sad — impressed that he should have the understanding that his tusks could put him in danger, but so sad at what that meant.”
The elephant, emotionally scarred from having narrowly escaped poachers before, was killed just a few months after Deeble wrote of his trauma-induced behavior. He lived fearing he was being hunted for his tusks… he was, of course, correct.
Poachers crouched in the waterholes aren’t always native to the elephants’ land like many American’s believe. CNN‘s Wayne Pacelle wrote, “Very wealthy hunters, mainly from the United States, are picking off elephants in their zeal to bag the biggest tusks and trophies and rise within the ranks of the global trophy hunting fraternity.” The Obama administration has decided to put a very tight restriction on the Ivory trade into the U.S. borders. The effect, Pacelle explained, should help save at least some elephant lives. America has been the second largest market for ivory products. Early this year though, the Obama administration fought against enormous pressure from the small group of very wealthy elephant hunters.
The organized hunting by rich, American hunting enthusiasts is perfectly legal and backed by Safari Club International. This lobbying group justifies the hunts by saying that they actually help elephants in the long run by stimulating local economy and helping to fund conservation efforts.
Pacelle, though, claims that the American trophy hunters are no different than the elephant poachers. He quotes the Safari Club and writes:
“‘An elephant with really good ivory (100 pounds, or 45 kg, per tusk used to be the magic number, though these days 70 pounds, or 32 kg, is considered very good) is generally considered Africa’s top hunting trophy. Trophy quality is determined by the weight and beauty of the tusks.’ I ask myself: Would poachers put it any differently?”
PBS stated that recent elephant killings have been the most devastating that conservationists have seen in decades. The Obama administration is being praised for the newest National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, because it included a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory which include a total ban of commercial importing and exporting of elephants’ ivory and the significant restriction of the resale of elephant ivory within the United States in general. The Obama administration’s ban states that the only time a sale can cross state lines is if the ivory is verified to be over 100 years old. It also states that ivory sales within a state are not allowed unless the seller can provide proof that the item was “lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African Elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.” The Obama administration’s declaration also restored African elephants as an endangered species, which revoked a special rule made by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some believe Obama’s efforts are not enough. The elephant ivory ban imposed by the Obama administration allows for a limited number of imported “trophies” of African elephant ivory: Individuals can now only import two per year. Many feel the Obama administration should be allowing absolutely zero tusks to be brought home to the United States from safaris.
Others say Obama and his administration went overboard. Ann McFeatters, of McClatchy-Tribune, feels the ban is too harsh. She says that the law will only harm law-abiding elephant hunters and law-abiding citizens who wish to appreciate ivory items such as art or musical instruments that have already been made. She points out that according to safari hunter Scott O’Grady, without legal American safari hunters funneling their money into elephant hunts, funds for anti-poaching rangers would dry up. She also points out that importing ivory was already illegal, enforcement has merely weakened. She likened Obama’s ivory ban to the futile “war on drugs.”
Artist Nick Brandt, who creates captivating imagery telling the haunting tale of the elephants’ downfall, told the Sierra Club’s Sierra Magazine:
“Too often I saw NGOs come in and try to run programs from their offices in Washington or London or even Nairobi without having a sense of what it takes to make programs work effectively. The only real hope of conservation in East Africa is working with the local communities. Conservation supports the people, and then the people will support conservation.”
Brandt formed the Big Life Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that trains and supports anti-poaching agents in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. He said that if we wait around for the world’s governments to effectively stop the elephant killings, there will be none left in under a decade. The organization relies heavily on donations which has helped rangers make over 1400 arrests in just the past few years.
Still, many Americans have no opinion on what Obama should or shouldn’t have done this winter to protect elephants after learning that over 20,000 were killed. These people are simply saddened the loss of lives like that of Satao, and don’t know what should be done to protect the intelligent species. These people mourn the loss of elephants that are fully aware that they are being hunted for their tusks, because no administration, including Obama’s, can ever bring them back.
[Featured photo via the Big Life Foundation’s public Facebook page]