Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

Actions and Attitudes: Page 2

     For some endangered animals, CITES has been crucial in preventing their extinction.  After a prolonged controversy, the African Elephant was upgraded from Appendix II to Appendix I in 1989, which effectively ended the ivory trade that resulted in the slaughter of these intelligent animals, the toll reaching almost 1 million animals for the 1970s and 1980s.  The 1996 IUCN Red List classified the species as Endangered for the first time, upgraded from Vulnerable status in the 1994 IUCN Red List.  This status was maintained in the 2000 IUCN Red List.  The ivory trade reduced these slow-reproducing animals, who have a single calf only once every five years, from 3 to 5 million in the 1930s and 1940s to only 300,000 to 500,000 today (Onishi 2001).  The high price of ivory in the 1980s encouraged the poaching of elephants outside parks, and when these were killed off, poachers entered national parks, often armed with machine guns.  Almost all the large bulls and most of the older females were killed for their tusks, leaving traumatized teenage elephants without leaders and protectors and orphaned infants who starved to death. 
     In the majority of African countries where elephants survive, they are zealously protected for their value in tourist revenue and for their ecological value as keystone species.  Many officials of these countries have said that they do not want future generations to learn about elephants only through books.  Yet several southern African countries--Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana--which stockpiled ivory from the 1980s trade and from culls carried out to limit elephants, succeeded in 1997 in convincing delegates at the CITES Conference to allow sale of 65 tons of this ivory to Japan.  Japan's sponsorship of much of the costs of the 1997 Conference, which took place in Zimbabwe, paved the way for the decision.  The President of Zimbabwe made personal requests to delegates to allow the sale.  Although CITES authorities enacted controls on the conditions of the sale of this ivory, it was predicted that the decision would open the door to further killing of elephants and ivory smuggling.  This proved correct.  African Elephants began to be poached again during the late 1990s in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other countries.  An elephant orphanage in Kenya received an unprecedented number of orphaned calves at this time.  Their mothers had been killed for their ivory in national parks.  Some of this ivory is sold locally, and much is smuggled out of Africa. 
     A large confiscation of tusks was made in Los Angeles in May 2001; these tusks, many of which were very small and obviously from young elephants, had been smuggled from Nigeria in hollowed-out furniture.  This indicates that allowing some sale of ivory opens the door to unrestricted slaughter and smuggling that will place the species in a critical--and perhaps lethal--decline toward extinction.  When ivory was allowed to be sold on a quota basis in the 1970s, this "regulated" trade failed completely to prevent unregulated slaughter as the price soared.  In many parts of Africa, poachers are killing elephants for a trade that may be resuming.  Ivory is openly sold in Cameroon, and in Burkina Faso, a West African country north of Ghana, where only 3,000 to 4,000 elephants remain, ivory traders are selling carvings and jewelry in the capital city (Onishi 2001).  One trader even complained that sales had not recovered as a result of the 1989 ivory ban, with larger carvings taking months to sell because tourists are no longer as interested in buying ivory (Onishi 2001).  When asked about the need to conserve these endangered animals, he said that like humans, some die, but the species does not become extinct (Onishi 2001).  Few Africans have been taught about how close African Elephants came to extinction as a result of the ivory trade, nor about their key role in spreading the seeds of trees and creating waterholes for wildlife.  It is also likely that only a small percentage of Africans are aware of the species' immense intelligence and altruism.  If these facts were better known, it is likely that most Africans would want to protect these great animals.  They are in imminent danger of disappearing from West Africa.
     As they attempt to forage in land that is now being tilled or used as grazing land, Asian and African Elephants are killed and harassed by farmers and villagers outside national parks.  Wildlife corridors are being proposed in many parts of the world to ease such problems.  As human populations grow, invading the last retreats of wildlife, parks and reserves are becoming islands amid development, agriculture and cities.  Without corridors of natural habitat linking these islands, wildlife will decline in diversity and abundance.  A new national park in Mozambique will link with South Africa's Kruger National Park and provide a corridor and additional habitat for Kruger's elephant populations.  Other international parks in southern Africa have opened or are scheduled.  Some conservationists have proposed that these parks form the southern end of a wide corridor north to Kenya.  This would be an excellent solution to the declining habitat faced by many large mammals of eastern Africa.  In the Western Hemisphere, the Atlantic Biological Corridor Project and the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor seek to protect wide swaths of land between Mexico and Colombia to prevent the extinction of wide-ranging animals, such as Jaguars and Cougars.  Along Texas' border with Mexico, most of an extremely biologically rich area has been plowed under, and the Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to purchase the remnants of this once rich habitat to link it with adjacent habitat in Mexico for use by endangered wildlife.

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