A South African tourist attraction that has been teaching its African elephants, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Research Office, to sniff out bombs and biological weapons amounts to nothing more than “years of mistakes and wasted resources,” said United States Senator John McCain while speaking at an event in Washington D.C. on Thursday that took place at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Adventures with Elephants, which is located on a South African wildlife reserve an hour outside of Pretoria, offers elephant-themed tourist attractions, such as swimming with and riding on their African pachyderms. The reserve is also lending the gentle giants to the U.S. Military, who are performing experiments on them in an effort to create an artificial “nose” based on the stellar sense of smell that African Elephants have.
Ashadee Kay Miller, a scientist at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, who is writing a paper on African Elephants’ unique sense of smell in correlation to their ability to detect bombs, compares elephants to dogs, but says that elephants have a keener sense than dogs do and pass the tests set out for them more often.
“The data show that elephants have an amazing capacity for TNT detection, they’ve never missed a sample in the second phase of testing, which is an improvement on the TNT-detection dogs working under similar conditions.”
Not everyone, however, is happy about the U.S. Army Research Office funding this project in South Africa. Senator John McCain is less than impressed with the amount of resources being used to train the African elephants, and he blasted the Department of Defense on their wasteful spending.
“Thus far, they have found that, while elephants are more effective than dogs, using them is impractical, no bomb-sniffing elephants have been fielded. We must root out this waste all the same. And it will be a priority for me as chairman to do so.”
Unfortunately, Sen. McCain is not the only enemy African elephants face. Earlier this week, the African Elephant Summit, which took place in the South African country of Botswana, heard figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which stated that due to poaching and the illegal ivory trade, we could see the full-blown extinction of the African Elephant in a decade.
“This species could be extinct in our lifetime, within one or two decades, if the current trend continues. In five years we may have lost the opportunity to save this magnificent and iconic animal.”
How do you feel about the U.S. military funding a project to train bomb-sniffing elephants? Should penalties for poaching be tougher before we lose another species to extinction?
[Photos by Win McNamee, Cameron Spencer/Getty Images]