Elephants threatened: A conference brings a reminder of mankind's duty

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A conference last week in Pittsburgh of the International Elephant and Rhinoceros Conservation and Research Symposium called attention to an appalling reduction underway in the world's elephant population.

The 200-person, five-day conference was hosted by the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The elephant, a usually gentle, long-lifed animal, considered by many to be close to as intelligent as humans, is still found in the wild in Africa and Asia, and in zoos, but is in severe danger of extinction in the wild in the not-too-distant future. Its population in Africa in the 1970s was estimated at 1.3 million. It now stands at fewer than 500,000. The Asian elephant population is now below 50,000. Elephants in Kenya, in the past a happy home for them, will be extinct there by 2025 if the current rate of killing prevails.

There is even a problem with the elephants in zoos, apart from the relative quality of life for them confined. The problem is that the elephant population in zoos is aging past breeding time.

The problem in the wild is a combination of greed on the part of poachers quite ready to kill an elephant for its tusks and equipped with an increasing arms supply from Africa's various wars, the dealers who traffic in the ivory and the avid, largely Asian, market for trinkets, jewelry and art made from the ivory. There is also an issue of habitat for the elephants. Farmers, particularly in Africa, want the land that the elephants require for grazing, and unregulated loggers cut down the trees that are part of the elephants' diet.

Who in particular is responsible for the progressive elimination of the elephants? The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has fingered a list of source, transit and consumer countries involved in the bloody trade. Countries on its poachers list are Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, to which should be added the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon and South Sudan. Transit countries named are Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Consumer countries named by CITES are China and Thailand, to which should be added Japan.

The loss that the extinction of the elephant would represent, unless halted, will be as grave for the human population, unable to protect this world asset, as to the animal itself. What is the matter with us?



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