Elephant crisis - what poaching does to animals, environments and people



Posted on 15 February 2013  | 
Observing and documenting elephants is key in understanding their behaviour – and how humans affect it.
© Mphoeng OfithileEnlarge
Dr Kate Evans is the director and founder of Elephants for Africa. She started her research over a decade ago, looking at adolescent male elephants in the Okavango Delta and how they socialise – with an emphasis on how captive-bred animals would react in a wild environment. Here she talks about how complex these beautiful (and emotional) animals are:

"Elephants have always been my passion, and growing up the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 80s had a massive impact on the journey that my life would take. Since 2002 I have been studying the elephants of Botswana, home to the largest remaining population in the world. My particular interest is male elephants and their ecological and social requirements.

The charity Elephants for Africa was founded in 2007 to support research and education towards the conservation of the African elephants, and we have since expanded to include projects in Ethiopia and South Africa.

I am shocked, but not surprised, to find ourselves in the middle of another poaching crisis, one that is having massive impact throughout the African continent. A small trinket or a large extravagant ornament made of ivory will have had a bloody start as most ivory these days is illegal; hacked from the face of a dead or dying elephant.

Whole herds are being gunned down, calves and adults alike, left to rot in the African sun in a pool of blood to feed humanity’s thirst for ivory.

This mass loss of individuals leads to the breakdown of family units and elephant society at large, leaving herds of leaderless elephants trying to make their way through their home that has become a war zone.

I have seen dead elephants, the bodies of young and old that have died of natural causes, and I have seen elephants visit those carcasses and grieve. One young male I know guarded the dead body of a much older male for three days, chasing the scavengers off.

We have to ask ourselves, what does an elephant do, feel or think when they come across a whole herd of dead elephants? Are they aware of who is responsible? What are the consequences for us humans?

I have come across bush meat poachers whilst by myself in the field and slept with a machete under my pillow in fear of reprisals. Thankfully I’ve never needed to defend myself, but the rangers and wardens that are out there in the field protecting our elephants get my utmost respect. They show no fear, yet they often come across poachers better equipped than themselves and risk their lives daily.

Our researcher in Ethiopia has seen the devastation first-hand, with reports of 66 elephants poached in recent months. With only an estimated 150-250 left in Babile Elephant Sanctuary, this loss is devastating – not only to the elephants but also to the ecology of the area if they were to lose this keystone species.

A sea of humanity isolates this population, so if the last elephant were to die there would be no natural repopulation – leading to irreversible change within the system, which would affect the animals and people that rely on this wilderness area.

Even Botswana, a safe haven for wildlife for so long can no longer escape the bloody tide and more and more reports of poaching are emerging.

We cannot fully comprehend the extent of the impact the extinction of the African elephant will have on the ecology and economy of Africa, yet this is where we are heading if we do not stop the illegal ivory trade.  Sign the petition to ban the ivory trade in Thailand.
Observing and documenting elephants is key in understanding their behaviour – and how humans affect it.
© Mphoeng Ofithile Enlarge
Analysis involves looking at everything we can do with elephants.
© Dr Ricardo Stanoss Enlarge
A close encounter with Seba!
© Simon Buckingham Enlarge

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required