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In 2008, I volunteered with Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) in Namibia, West Africa. We built “elephant-proof” wells for villagers
and tracked and monitored the local desert elephant herds in the area. On one of our excursions to find a particular herd, we stumbled upon an elephant carcass.
One of the first things I noticed was the lack of tusks. They were nowhere to be found. One of our local guides told us that the elephant had most likely died of old age, and that officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism had taken the tusks for safekeeping, so that they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. Although poaching is not a huge problem in that area, in 2007, the African governments of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe were granted permission to pursue a one-off sale of their stock-piled ivory, 18 years after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade. The money would be used by the countries in various ways, including funding for conservation efforts. However, opposers felt that this would only increase the rates of illegal poaching, and some countries, including Kenya, condemned the sales. One year later, standing over the remains of one of Namibia’s greatest tourism assets, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what had happened to that elephant, and where the tusks had gone. What had her life been like? Where was her family? Had they mourned her passing? Had she died a “natural” death, or did she fall victim to poachers?
It sickens me to think that in 2011 there are still those who value a carved ivory statue over the life that provided it. That there are individuals willing to spend thousands of dollars (and in some cases, much more) for a dust-collector that they can display in their homes, with no regard for the animal whose life was taken so that the person could have it. But I am heartened by increased investigatory efforts, and by each and every confiscation of illegal ivory and subsequent prosecution of the people responsible. Each one is a victory in the war on wildlife. My hope is that it will continue… each one sends a message: we will not tolerate this senseless killing and lack of respect for wildlife.