Elephants face extinction in Ivory Coast where they are a national emblem, with numbers decreasing by half in the past 30 years, the country’s water and foresty ministry said Wednesday.
Blaming the decline on deforestation and poaching, a top official at the ministry, Kouame Me, said the elephant population in the West African country has dwindled to fewer than 500.
“The population of pachyderms was 100,000 individuals in the 1960s,” Kouame told AFP, adding that more than 200 animal species face extinction in the former French colony.
Cultivation of cocoa — the country’s top export — has brought about deforestation that has seen a nearly 90 percent reduction in the country’s forest cover over the past 50 years.
Today Ivory Coast is the world’s top cocoa exporter, enjoying some 40 percent of the market.
Deforestation has endangered the last refuges of forest elephants, environmental experts say.
Elephants are also threatened by poachers and rapid urbanisation that is encroaching on the beasts’ natural habitats.
The government launched a conservation drive in 2016 in the Mont Peko game park in the west of the country, home to the world’s last dwarf elephants.
The illicit trade in ivory is the third most lucrative after drugs and arms trafficking, fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicine and in ornaments.
Ivory can fetch up to 7,000 euros ($8,400) a kilo.
Six wild elephants drowned after slipping off a waterfall in northeast Thailand, authorities said Saturday, with two others saved after they became stranded while apparently trying to rescue one of those that fell into the current.
Officials in the northeastern Khao Yai national park were alerted to elephants “crying” for help at 3am, the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said in a statement.
Hours later they found six bodies at the bottom of the gushing Haew Narok (“Hell’s Abyss”) waterfall.
Two of the elephants had apparently attempted to save one of those that fell, but they found themselves trapped on a thin, slippery sliver of rock above the churning waters.
Video showed another of the hulking animals struggling desperately to get back up to where the pair stood.
Park officials tossed food laced with nutritional supplements in an attempt to boost their energy and give them the strength to climb back up into the forest.
They later said the two had been rescued but were extremely distressed.
Parks department spokesperson Sompoch Maneerat said it was unclear what caused the accident.
“No one knows for sure the real cause of why they fell, but there was heavy rain there last night,” he told AFP.
The waterfall was closed to tourists as the rescue took place.
Elephants are Thailand’s national animal and live in the wild in parts of the country, but their numbers have dwindled to only a few thousand.
Deforestation has pushed the wild population into closer contact with humans in recent decades and away from their natural habitats.
Amid growing calls for an outright ban, the European Union has come under increasing pressure to help protect African elephants by ending the trade of ivory within its borders.
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 in 2015.
According to the conservation group WWF, as much as 60 per cent of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching.
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which campaigns against the ivory trade, says that between 2007 and 2014, 144,000 elephants were killed across Africa — the equivalent of one death every 15 minutes.
The international trade of ivory was officially banned in 1989.
The United States outlawed domestic trade in 2016, with China following suit a year later.
But several other markets, including the EU and Japan, have no such internal bans.
Critics maintain that legal domestic ivory markets fuel laundering of illegal ivory and undermine ivory bans elsewhere.
More scrutiny, but no ban
Ivory and the plight of African elephants is a hot-button issue this week at a meeting in Geneva of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates trade in more than 35,000 species of plants and animals.
On Wednesday, countries agreed to demand more scrutiny of the ivory markets that remain open but stopped short of heeding a call by mainly African countries to order the immediate closure of all domestic ivory markets.
The conference did, however, order the EU as well as Japan and other countries that still permit the trade to report back within a year on what measures they are taking to ensure that their ivory markets are not contributing to elephant poaching and illegal trafficking.
Conservationists welcomed the increased scrutiny but warned it was not enough.
“We are moving in the right direction, but we don’t have time to waste,” Sarah Morrison, with campaign group Avaaz, told AFP.
“We urgently need to close all domestic markets and make sure we put the lives of elephants first.”
Philip Muruthi of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) agreed, stressing that “there isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand.”
“As long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that elephants are being killed to sustain it.”
The European Union currently has, at least in theory, stringent rules on ivory sales within its borders.
It’s illegal to export elephant tusks out of the EU, and only objects dated before 1947 can be bought without paperwork — any ivory made after that date requires a certificate to purchase.
But last year, a joint study between the University of Oxford and Avaaz showed that as much as a fifth of ivory objects came from elephants killed after the global trade ban in 1989.
Campaigners say it is still too easy to trade illegal ivory within and out of the EU.
A coalition of 17 NGOs calling for a Europe-wide ban said that illegal ivory was being “laundered by exploiting loopholes in EU law”.
Ivory sold as “antique” currently requires no proof of authenticity or origin within Europe, it said.
France, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands have all adopted or are set to adopt stricter measures against the illegal trade.
France’s environment ambassador Yann Wehrling said that ending main domestic ivory markets would greatly benefit the African elephant.
“The African elephant will be protected because you will no longer be able to buy ivory and poaching will cease,” he said.
Conservationists insist it is still easy to find ivory sculptures for sale online with no proof of their provenance.
The WWF said the world needed “a better understanding of what constitutes an effective market closure” in order to seal off loopholes.
During Wednesday’s debate, the EU hinted new regulations were soon to be introduced across the bloc.
Matthew Collis, policy chief at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), welcomed that, insisting though that any changes to the EU rules should “shut down ivory markets in the EU with all but extremely limited exemptions, in line with actions taken by other nations like China, the US and the UK.”
Zimbabwe has sold nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for a total price of $2.7 million over six years, the country’s wildlife agency said on Wednesday, citing overpopulation.
Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman, Tinashe Farawo, told AFP Zimbabwe’s elephants were overcrowding national parks, encroaching into human settlements, destroying crops and posing a risk to human life.
“We have 84,000 elephants against a carrying capacity of 50,000,” he said, justifying the sales. “We believe in the sustainable use of resources, so we sell a few elephants to take care of the rest.
Farawo said 200 people have died in “human-and-animal conflict” in the past five years, “and at least 7,000 hectares of crop have been destroyed by elephants”.
The animals’ natural habitat has been depleted by climate change, he added, while recurrent droughts have added to strain on the overburdened national parks, forcing the pachyderms to seek food and water further afield.
Farawo said money from the legal sales was allocated to anti-poaching projects, conservation work, research and welfare.
According to the Zimbabwe Chronicle newspaper, 93 elephants were safely airlifted to parks in China and four to Dubai between 2012 and 2018, They were sold in a price range of between $13,500 and $41,500 each.
Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of elephants in some regions.
But over the past decade, the population of elephants across Africa has fallen by about 111,000 to 415,000, largely due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Luggard, a lively three-year-old, limps behind the rest of his ragtag troupe of orphan elephants, halting to graze or rub against a tree.
When he was just five months old, Luggard was found struggling to keep up with his herd in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park.
He had been shot twice.
One bullet pierced his left front foot, and another shattered his right, hind femur just above the knee joint.
The calf was discovered “too late for successful surgery,” said Edwin Lusichi, 42, head keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) elephant nursery in Nairobi National Park, Luggard’s new home.
With the rest of the gang of 20 elephant babies in this unusual orphanage, Luggard comes charging with great enthusiasm, though hobbling heavily on his deformed leg, out of the bush for a 9:00 am feeding.
The calves greedily slurp from oversized “baby bottles”, rumbling contentedly and trumpeting excitedly as they ingest the special mix of human baby formula, water and vitamins.
Each calf at the nursery has a tragic story: orphaned by poachers, drought, or in conflict with humans encroaching ever further into the few wild places left.
“We rescue them from just a few days old,” DSWT administrator Kirsty Smith told AFP.
The youngest elephant in the centre’s care is Larro, 10 months.
She was found lost and alone in the Maasai Mara game reserve, likely after her family clashed with humans.
“Sometimes the elephants get into the communities, farms and homes, people fight them, chase them away, and in the process of the fight they (the babies) get separated from their families,” Lusichi explained.
Without its mother, an elephant calf will die.
They are weaned between the ages of five and 10, when they enter adolescence. Adulthood starts around the age of 18, and left undisturbed, elephants can live to be 70.
But poaching claims many prematurely.
Killing for Ornaments
About 20,000 African elephants per year — 55 per day — are killed, mainly for their tusks, according to the WWF.
“You’re killing a whole elephant just to have the tusks! For what — just to have an ornament?” asks an exasperated Lusichi.
He points to Enkesha, a tiny two-year-old.
“You see the trunk? She was found trapped in a snare” which all but severed the appendage elephants use to breathe, eat, drink water, and communicate.
Enkesha was rescued, stitched up, and after a long rehabilitation, now uses her badly-scarred trunk almost as normal, ripping up grass to eat and sucking up water.
The nursery keeps babies like Luggard, Larro and Enkesha until they are about three — the age at which elephants start craving more independence.
But until then, they receive 24-7 care with a bottle feeding every three hours.
The babies sleep in single wooden rooms at night, and the youngest each have a keeper with them.
“It’s similar to spending a night in a bedroom with… a human baby,” said Julius Shivegha, 43, one of the caretakers.
“We have to make sure that they are well-covered with a blanket, to keep them warm… They keep waking up for the milk… We are around for reassurance and for company, just to make sure they don’t feel lonely.”
The bond between animal and human is a close one.
During the daytime, the keepers accompany the group as they wander about the savannah, browsing and playing.
They call their charges by name, and the elephants respond.
As a treat, the keepers prepare mud baths into which the babies dive with abandon, rolling and sliding about, blowing bubbles, and wildly splashing the wet earth around with their trunks.
‘Sometimes we just cuddle’
“We sometimes play soccer with them,” said Shivegha of the daily routine.
“Sometimes we just cuddle them, we hug them. Some of them will keep on trying to just grab your hands or suck your fingers like a pacifier. All of this makes them really close to us… We are their mothers.”
This makes for a “bitter-sweet” separation: when the elephants graduate from the nursery, they go to one of three reintegration centres at Tsavo.
Here they spend several years learning to live independently, eventually joining a herd or forming their own and setting off into the wider park.
For disabled elephants like Luggard, the SWT runs a haven in Kibwezi Forest with abundant food and water all year round, and no human settlements nearby.
In 42 years, the trust has rehabilitated more than 230 orphan elephants. Over 120 are living wild and have given birth to 30 known calves, said Smith.
Ending attacks on elephants will be difficult in a part of the world where poverty and the danger posed to human life and property by wild elephant herds, are seen as justification.
To try and change mindsets, the SWT takes children on excursions to cultivate a love for wildlife and provides schools with books and desks with money raised through its projects.
Shivegha called for “everyone’s support”, in creating alternatives to poaching, such as small business opportunities, for people who live near game reserves.
Also, crucially, “let’s try and stop the end product market, let’s tell people to stop buying (ivory),” he urged.
Ninety elephant carcasses have been discovered in Botswana with their tusks hacked off, a charity said Tuesday, in figures fiercely contested by the government.
Elephants Without Borders said the grim discovery of scores of elephant carcasses, made over several weeks during an aerial survey, is believed to be one of Africa’s worst mass poaching sprees.
The charity’s scientists, who carried out the assessment with Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, found most of the dead animals were large bulls, which would have had heavy tusks.
“We started flying the survey on July 10, and we have counted 90 elephant carcasses since the survey commenced,” Mike Chase, the charity’s director, told AFP.
“Each day we are counting dead elephants,” he added.
The wild pachyderms were shot with heavy-calibre rifles at watering spots near a popular wildlife sanctuary in the Okavango Delta.
According to Chase, the carcasses’ skulls were “chopped open by presumably very sharp axes, to remove their tusks”. In some cases the trunks were also removed.
‘False and misleading’
“The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I have seen or read about in Africa to date,” Chase said, adding that the poaching coincided with Botswana’s rangers being reportedly disarmed earlier this year.
But the Botswana government later rejected the charity’s tally of the carcasses as well as their explanation for the deaths.
“These statistics are false and misleading,” said a statement on the official government Twitter account, which added that “at no point in the last months or recently were 87 or 90 elephants killed in one incident in any place in Botswana”.
It said the EWB had counted 53 carcasses during the survey, adding that it had verified that most of these animals had died of “natural causes”.
The statement confirmed that authorities had withdrawn weapons from rangers, but denied the move had “created any vacuum in anti-poaching operations”.
“Government wishes to reiterate the fact that wildlife remains a national heritage and our citizens will protect it at all costs,” it said.
Botswana had previously had a zero-tolerance approach to poaching, with a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers.
The landlocked country with its unfenced parks and wide open spaces has the largest elephant population in Africa at over 135,000.
‘A huge worry’
Earlier Botswana Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama confirmed to AFP that elephants had been poached.
“I am very concerned, it’s a huge worry,” he said. “I’m aware that the numbers are in double digits, and for Botswana they are high.
“Because we had been spared poaching for a long time, I think now we are realising the sophistication of these poachers.
“Unfortunately sometimes we learn these lessons the hard way,” he said.
Chase said elephants in Zambia and Angola, north of Botswana, “have been poached to the verge of local extinction, and poachers have now turned to Botswana”.
The number of African elephants has fallen by around 111,000 to 415,000 in the past decade, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The killing continues at a dizzying pace of about 30,000 elephants a year to meet demand for ivory in Asia, where tusks sell for around $1,000 (864 euros) a kilo (2.2 pounds).
The Botswana poaching occurred just months after former president Ian Khama, deeply passionate about protecting wildlife, stepped down, handing power to his chosen successor Mokgweetsi Masisi.
Global conservationist International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) expressed shock at the slaughter.
“Until now Botswana’s elephant herds have largely been left in peace, but clearly Botswana is now in the cross-hairs,” said Jason Bell, IFAW’s vice president for conservation.
Poachers have also targeted rhino in Botswana, with six white rhino carcasses were found in recent months.
At a garbage dump in central Sri Lanka, a herd of wild elephants forage among a mountain of rubbish, swallowing dangerous scraps of plastic mixed with rotting food in what experts warn is an increasing problem for the revered animals.[/caption]
Due to illegal dumping near wildlife sanctuaries, hundreds of Sri Lanka’s estimated 7,500 wild elephants now scavenge at rubbish tips and many are being made sick by what they eat, Jayantha Jayewardene, an expert on Asian elephants, said.
“Sri Lanka considers elephants to be a national treasure, but we see these animals reduced to eating rubbish,” Jayawardene told AFP Thursday.
“They have become docile and got so used to tractors bringing them garbage.”
A herd of 20 wild elephants at Habarana in the east of Sri Lanka has become totally dependent on rubbish and behaved almost like domestic animals waiting for tractors to tip the garbage.
“These elephants no longer forage in the jungle. They are like zoo animals. It is a sad sight to see national treasures picking through rotting rubbish,” he said.
The animals can be seen covered in smelly garbage and rooting among piles of plastic bottles, a far cry from the majestic jumbos portrayed in travel brochures.
Jayewardene said the solid waste included plastic scraps despite a government ban on non-biodegradable polythene. Hundreds of elephants elsewhere are also known to forage at dozens of rubbish tips near elephant habitats.
“Elephants are getting sick by eating plastics,” he said. “We don’t, however, have post mortem evidence yet of polythene causing deaths, but this is a real concern.”
The government last year banned the open dumping of garbage near wildlife sanctuaries to discourage elephants from risking their lives by foraging for rotting food.
At one dump in Digampathana, 160 kilometres (100 miles) northeast of Colombo, an elephant was recently seen trying to open a plastic sack to get at an onion and ended up swallowing the plastic as well.
The government has ordered electric fences be erected around more than 50 dumps near elephant habitats to keep the roaming beasts away. Some have not been put up while others are ineffective, according to local residents.
“Around 300 wild elephants are hanging around them (dumps),” the government said in a statement issued last year. “When elephants consume bacteria-infested waste… it shortens their lifespan.”
The problem is worse for a herd of spotted deer at Koneswaran in the northeastern district of Trincomalee where frequent deaths have been reported due to plastic poisoning.
Local wildlife officials told AFP that there was no effective enforcement of the garbage ban.
Sri Lanka cracked down on haphazard disposal of garbage after 33 people were buried alive when a huge 90-metre (300-foot) rubbish tip at the edge of the capital Colombo collapsed destroying more than 100 homes.
Since then, plastics have been banned and prosecutions been threatened for illegal dumping. But enforcement remains a problem.
Elephants are venerated in Buddhism, the majority religion in Sri Lanka, and are protected by law.