- (Photo: Reuters/TRAFFIC/Handout)
Wild African elephants are in great danger with their numbers rapidly declining due to extensive poaching, and could be gone from the continent's plains almost entirely within five years, unless people start paying attention to these issues, a wildlife expert has warned.
"The elephant population in Africa is presently declining at an alarming rate," said Dr Eivin Roskaft from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, according to BBC Nature.
"The world must find interest in it, if not there will be very few or no elephants in Africa in about five to six years."
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) estimated that as much as 12 percent of the world's elephant population was massacred in Africa during the last year alone, though some fear the 25,000 toll might be even higher.
A new PBS special called "Battle for the Elephants," which is set to air on Feb. 27 on National Geographic, documents wildlife filmmakers seeking to expose the illegal ivory trade responsible for the mass killings.
"The ivory trade – and its devastating impact on elephant populations – doesn't just come down to 'evil' poachers in Africa killing elephants without regard, nor is it merely a lust for ivory in Asia," explains J.J. Kelley, the producer behind "Battle for Elephants."
"Poachers and consumers are major factors, of course, but the problem is much more historically rooted and complex. After all, western cultures caused similar devastation to the elephant population due to an intense desire for billiard balls, piano keys, and combs; a desire so insatiable that by 1913, the United States was consuming 200 tons of ivory per year," J.J. Kelley continued.
"The startling truth is, if we do not do something now, there is a very real chance future generations will not see elephants in the wild."
The African Journal of Ecology detailed the patterns of wild elephants inside Serengeti National Park the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tanzania, showing how they have learned to live far away from humans and cars, which they associate with poachers. While hunting and killing elephants is illegal in the Serengeti, that has not stopped the many poachers who come for their tusks and meat.
"The biggest threat to African elephants and other wildlife is the human population increase outside all such parks," Dr Roskaft continued. "I think elephants know where they are safe or not. However, sometimes they also are tempted by nice food outside the park which attracts them to such areas."
Elephants are in danger all across Africa – Gabon's Minkebe National Park rainforest reported on Wednesday that poachers have managed to kill more than 11,000 of the animals since 2004, fueled by the increasing demand for ivory in Asia.
"If we don't reverse this situation rapidly, the future of elephants in Africa will be compromised," Lee White, executive secretary of Gabon's national parks agency, said in a statement issued by Gabon's presidency, as reported by Reuters.
Poachers have been heavily armed with large-caliber rifles and chainsaws to remove tusks, and operate in secret camps in the rainforest, escaping the park guards charged with keeping the animals safe.
"If we do not want to lose the last elephants in central Africa, the illicit ivory trade needs to be treated as a grave crime that corrupts governments and seriously undermines economic development and security," said Bas Huijbregts, head of WWF's anti-poaching campaign in the region.
Some Christian groups concerned with the well-being of animals, such as A Rocha USA, a Christian environmental stewardship organization, have said that believers need to care about such issues because animals are a precious part of God's creation.
"For Christians, we ought to care because God cares. He created it all and called it all very good, Christ created all through Him, by Him, for Him, and not just in terms of creation in the abstract, or the species scale, but even down to the individual animal. In Matthew 10, not a single sparrow falls without the Father knowing about it," said Tom Rowley, executive director of A Rocha, in a previous interview with The Christian Post.
"The Bible communicates that God takes delight and pride in His animal creations, and He has clearly called us to steward them with care and compassion on His behalf," added Ben Devries, founder of Not One Sparrow, an advocacy organization that describes itself as a Christian voice for animals.