Monday, February 2, 2009

The Plight of the Sad-Faced Elephants

Do you think elephants are sad-faced? Actually, they have a lot reasons to be. Not just the “Dumbo” type of reason but by the way they are being inhumanely treated. Today, they are under the endangered species list; Asian elephants are classified as full-fledged endangered while African elephants are classified as threatened-endangered. So big and so majestic and yet these gentle creatures are subjected to cruel treatments very few of us are aware of.

The African Elephants 

During the 70’s up to the late 1980’s, the world market’s demand for the elephant’s ivory tusk was high. The market price commanded as much as $90 per pound because the smooth texture of these ivory tusks was very ideal for exquisite artistic creations. They were used for decorative carvings, religious images, handles, piano keys, jewelry, and other exquisite ideas of artisanship. Besides, during that era, plastic as an alternative smooth material was yet unheard of.   

These ivory tusks are actually the elephant’s extra teeth, which it uses for digging deeply into the ground in search of food to sustain its humongous body. What we see of its tusks is only a 2/3 part while the remaining part is embedded deeply in the elephant’s skull. Hence, poachers slaughtered these elephants in order to get those precious ivory tusks. In those days, it was common to see herds of elephants killed in multitudes in the plains of Africa, their carcasses left to rot in the heat of the African sun for vultures to feast on.

It was only in 1989 when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) unanimously voted to ban the international trade for ivory tusks, that these killings were put to a temporary halt. The government of Kenya finally found a support for their local laws in banning the sale of products from their wildlife preserves.

It was only temporary of course since poachers still found a way to smuggle the ivory tusks out of the African countries. As recent as 2006, several contraband items containing ivory tusks were confiscated in several Asian key ports and on different occasions. The ivory tusks found were still fresh with blood and bits of flesh at the time of confiscation.

It could end on a happy note that the African nations have provided wildlife reserve areas where these elephants are protected from poachers. However, as these elephants are huge and with equally huge appetites, the funding for these reserves could not meet the resources needed to maintain the growing number of elephants. Thus, the government and the wildlife officials decided that culling measures be implemented to lessen the demand for wildlife reserves.

Culling is how they call their selective and regulated method of deciding which elephant should stay and which elephant should be killed. The tusks of those who were culled was again the subject of trade on the grounds that the proceeds will be used to fund the wildlife reserves. This move gained support from the local farmers, since they were not too happy with the way elephants invaded and destroyed their cultivation once the reserves’ food provision could not satiate the elephant’s large appetite.    

The only problem is the poachers and the smugglers found another opportunity to continue with their trade. This time though, the massacred elephants were found deep in the forests. The poachers too were well prepared, since they have set-up camps in the woods. They came complete with high-powered guns and rocket launchers in case anyone, including the forest rangers, interfered with their poaching activities.

If only these gentle giants could run as fast and as agile as their other jungle counterparts could, they would have eluded these poachers. Alas, they are big and slow as well as traveled in herds, which made them easy targets for the poachers. Hence, this is the plight of the sad-faced African elephants.         

The Asian Elephants

The Asian elephants are different. They are endangered not because they are victims of poaching. In fact, greater value is given to a living Asian elephant since they are literally used as beasts of burden. The value of two ivory tusks is nothing compared to the number of logs it can haul in a day’s work.

In Burma, elephants haul and pull logs in steep inclines and steadily rising grounds at times covering a distance of about two miles. They strained and pulled logs, sometimes crying out in pain since each pull managed to open up the sores on their flanks. As a reporter empathized while watching the elephant, it was accordingly a scene too difficult to witness. Finally, after about an hour and a half, the elephant will complete its task of dragging illegally felled logs.

Here in Burma, the elephants are fed, bathed and cared for as well as trained, scarred and marked. The upkeep of a healthy herd of elephants is important for Burma’s logging industry which up to now carries a way of life long forgotten from the rest of the other regions.

As ironic as the life of the African elephants, Asian elephants found in Burma can be sustained by large forest reserves because Burma is the only place in Asia with the largest remaining wild lands. Unfortunately, they live in a country meted by sanctions by the international community, hence, the country is isolated from the rest, and only a few organizations can help regarding the issue of elephant conservation.  

The life of an elephant both in Africa and in Asia is hard. If the two could communicate, one would probably ask the other,” Where do you prefer to live? “In a vast land where you are not allowed to roam too far, lest the poachers will kill you or here in an equally vast land where you are cared for in captivity  because they need you to be strong for tomorrow’s work?”

Now you know why elephants have sad faces.  

Read a related article entitled: "Poaching: Still a Threat to Elephants despite Internation Ban on Ivory Sales", via this link:

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