African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 76% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.
This is the number of African elephants that are currently being killed every day for their tusks. In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants, by 1989 there remained only 600,000. In 1989, an international ban on selling ivory was created which decreased its value and stopped the demand . . . but only temporarily. Many of the countries in Africa have stockpiles of ivory from seizures and pre-1989, and some of those countries were given permission to have one-off sales of those stockpiles to primarily Asian countries, which in change created demand and increased value once again. In the last decade elephant numbers have begun to plummet and now there is an estimated 400,000 or fewer left. That’s a 76% decline in the overall elephant population, and over 3/4‘s of the forest elephants that live in Central Africa. If rates continue at this level elephants may be nearing extinction in ten years.
The tusks or ivory of an elephant is a very desirable material and the only way to obtain the tusks of an elephant is to kill them. Due to a growing middle class in China and the ivory being used as a symbol of “status quo”, the demand for ivory is at an all-time high. The estimated cost per 1 kg (2.2 lbs) is $1800.00 US dollars. If an average female elephant has about 10 kg of ivory, than
The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.
each elephant is worth $18,000.00 dollars, and that’s wholesale. The retail value of 10 kg can be sold for $60,000 dollars! The incentive is paramount. The money that is being generated by wildlife trafficking is a 7-10 billion dollar industry, which ranks fifth globally behind trafficking in drugs, humans, oil, and counterfeiting. Even worse, the trafficking is dominated by well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and some have links with terrorist networks. Visit my blog for more information on the history of the trade (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2012/03/14/of-tusks-and-terror-the-truth-about-ivory/).
Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.
Shockingly, besides Asian markets, the United States is in the top ten nations to import ivory. Much of this trade is legal under a confusing set of U.S. regulations that perpetuates black market sales of illegal ivory. Simply put, pre-ban ivory or “legacy” ivory is still legal to sell, but once the illegal ivory gets into these countries, the ivory is almost impossible to differentiate. Although permits are required for proof of the ivory being legal, they are easy to manipulate and fake. New York is the number one market, and San Francisco the second biggest market in the U.S. So sad, and so close to home.
Ask yourself this: Can I live in a world with no elephants? Here are some reasons why elephants are so important to this world.
Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants. Photo by author.
Elephants are a keystone species. Elephants play a very important role in their ecosystem, clearing away brush that therefore creates a clearing for other species, making available food sources for those species available. They also dig for water, creating pools for other animals to drink from. Without them, other species cannot survive.
- Earth’s constant gardeners. Through their “digested leftovers” elephants are seed dispersers, helping to replenish their habitat, and regrow food sources for other species.
- Complex beings. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex beings, living in a matriarchal society the females are bonded for life. The matriarch whom has had years of training and information handed down from her mom, plays a critical role in the herds survival. Often the matriarchs are being killed first for their larger tusks, creating broken herds, who are having a much harder time surviving without her. Elephants have self-awareness, and also mourn their dead.
How Oakland Zoo is helping.
Oakland Zoo has always been on the forefront of supporting elephant conservation awareness as well as advocacy for elephants in captivity, promoting natural history and behaviors through proper management. Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org), led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, have been one of our partners for eighteen years and through our annual Celebrating Elephants Day and Evening Lecture we have been able to raise over 250,000 dollars over the years. This money goes straight to the project, helping support their research as well as protect the elephants in the park.
We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society through their campaign called 96 Elephants. The “96” campaign is on board
Welcome Oakland Zoo’s new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.
with the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI, who announced their commitment in September of 2013 with a plan, “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” which includes other NGO partners and nation leaders. Along with over 111 partners, many of which are AZA Accredited institutions, “96” plans to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Collectively zoos play a powerful role in conservation efforts. With so many resources at our fingertips as well as a very large audience of visitors it is our job to do what we can to help support organizations that are fighting for the survival of hundreds of threatened species. Through collaborative efforts with world citizens, partners, and change makers, this campaign will focus on: securing effective United States moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. We are excited to be joining this campaign and look forward to collaborating with such a hard working group of people.
Oakland Zoo will help the 96 Elephants campaign through the following ways:
How you can help.
- Don’t buy ivory!
- Go online to www.96elephants.org to read more detail about the campaign and elephants.
- Donate to the campaign.
- Sign the petition, and participate in letter writing campaigns. So far, over 113,000 constituents have taken advocacy action and sent a combined 196,000 emails to Congress, President Obama, and Secretary of the Interior Jewell.
- Promote the campaign through your blog and social media channels
- Talk to your friends and spread the word about what’s going on.
Please do what you can to help elephants, nothing you can contribute is too small! Remember, another day . . . another 96 await.
Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!
Please join Oakland Zoo for our 18th Annual Celebrating Elephants (www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800). Saturday May 17th at 6pm in the Zimmer Auditorium, Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Research Associate of Amboseli Trust for Elephants will be our inspirational guest speaker. Dr. Fishlock will present her experience working with African elephants as part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Silent auction items to bid on and refreshments to dine on. Saturday, May 24th from 10am to 4pm will be our day long zoo event, which includes barn tours with an opportunity to see Oakland Zoo’s cutting edge management, create treats for the elephants, and watch Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. All proceeds go to ATE.