A new study by the National Academy of Sciences warns that the rate of illegal slaughter of African elephants, permitted by African governments and fueled by the market for ivory in China and Asian countries, could lead to the extermination of the animal in the wild within a few years.
Africa’s elephant population is about 400,000. The study reports that 100,000 were killed between 2010 and 2012 and that the rate of illegal killing has jumped by 25 percent in the past decade. That means that, absent meaningful steps to curb the poaching, most African elephants could be gone from the Earth early in the next decade.
The rising standard of living of Chinese and other Asians and their ability to pay Africans ever-rising prices for ivory is one source of the problem. A second is the unwillingness or inability of most governments in African countries with elephants to protect them. The Chinese and other dealers offer Africans large amounts of money to look the other way or to collaborate on poaching and transporting the elephants’ tusks.
This chaotic state of governance has also been demonstrated in the proliferation of the deadly Ebola virus. The disease, which has re-emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while spreading through Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, has revealed the inadequate state of health care in various African countries. The leaders of these countries have diverted resources from building up the necessary medical systems, education and infrastructure in favor of wars and corruption, with now catastrophic results.
The Ebola epidemic, with its tragic human consequences, is a more horrible result of the leaders’ inability to govern, but the progressive extermination of the African elephant, unless halted immediately, will be another serious blot on their record of irresponsibility.