Ivory is a hard, white material derived from tusks and teeth of animals, consisting of dentine, a tissue quite similar to bone. Ivory has and still is an expression of wealth. It can be used for works of art, religious objects, piano keys, jewelry, and the many other exotic uses. The most important sources of ivory comes from the African elephant. Other species such as the hippopotamus have also been threatened, but still the African elephant is most likely to suffer. Poaching has always been a serious problem.
In 1990 The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned international banned international trade in ivory. The demand for ivory is so great, mainly in the Asia and U.S., this pressure led to the act to be amended in 1997 allowing some African countries to sell some of their stockpile. The heated debate was created and recently there has been a rise in ivory poaching.
Grown elephants are the world’s largest land mammal. Majestic, vegetable eaters, and no threat to humans, these creatures have been brutally murdered for centuries for their beautiful tusks. The demand for ivory today, and the more people able to pay for this luxury the worst the slaughter gets. An estimate of 96 elephants were killed in Africa during 2012 each and every day. This breaks down to to one elephant every 15 minutes.
The devastation is fueled by a rare commodity, local poverty and social disorder. These circumstances make the elephant an easy target. They are shot or traps placed and then left to die so that the tusks can be easily removed from the carcass. Many disturbing videos can be viewed on YouTube and other networks, I caught a few myself, found them to be extremely horrific.
Environmentally speaking, the poaching of elephants was more of a depopulation issue in previous times. In recent news, the issue has turned more serious toward other wildlife and the general surrounding areas where the elephants reside. The magnitude of what is happening today is far greater than in the past. Massive bones and carcasses are turning up around remote watering holes where the animals turn to for their drinking supply.
Cyanide used in gold mining was spread by poachers over flat “salt pans” know as natural, mineral-rich salt licks. Cyanide attacks the bloodstream, it kills almost instantly and causes rapid decomposition. What a cruel fast way to destroy these animals. This chemical is commonly used by illegal gold panners to separate the metal from surrounding ore and it is easily available. Lions, hyenas, and vultures have died from feeding on contaminated carcasses or drinking from the surrounding wells also.
The State Environmental Management Authority is planning to burn the elephant carcasses and rely on help from experts to detoxify the affected areas, starting with digging out the salt licks and removing the top layers of soil contaminated by the cyanide granules. The government is trying hard to win this war and to crack down on paying masters. But Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped wildlife and authorities of the environment are underfunded, understaffed and poorly equipped because of the nation’s troubled economy. The environment minister has stated that officials have begun to work with local village communities on the fringe of the park to report the presence of cyanide. At least attempts are made.
Soaring vultures are the first sign of illegal killing, but so many of these birds have also died from the cyanide. The absence of their presence makes the ecological impact of the poisonings much harder to fight and control. The time it took to write this and for you to read it cost another elephant it’s life.