August 12 is World Elephant Day. It’s estimated there are 500,000 elephants remaining in Africa. That’s down from 1.2-million in the 1980s, as poaching continues to take its toll.
African Wildlife Foundation’s Beatrice Karanja says World Elephant Day is an attempt to save an iconic animal.
“What we hope to accomplish is to raise awareness to the plight of the elephants in Africa and the rate at which we’re losing them, which is quite phenomenal. Africa lost 35,000 elephants last year. And it is predicted that if we continue on the trajectory that we are on now we will see no elephants in the wild by 2025.”
Speaking from Nairobi, Karanja said raising awareness about the plight of elephants begins at home.
“Even here in Kenya when you talk to [the] general public they are not aware of the rate at which we are losing them and the rate at which they could be extinct. So, we are appealing to Kenyan brothers and sisters and our African brothers and sisters to take more of a cognizant role in calling for drastic changes in policy and legislation that can assure that we don’t lose our iconic species,” she said.
Poaching is fueled by the demand for ivory, primarily in Asia. It’s used in traditional medicine and as a status symbol.
“Poaching has become almost militarized in that the poachers are using high caliber weapons, sophisticated tools for tracking, whether it’s GPS or night vision goggles, etc. So it’s a challenge when you’ve got a ranger who doesn’t have that same equipment to fight against the poachers. We need more boots on the ground and we need stronger legislative policies and laws,” she said.
Karanja added that the elephant awareness campaign also needs the will and commitment of African governments.
Anti-poaching efforts do work. For example, foot and aerial patrols have reduced poaching by 50-percent in the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. About 2,200 elephants live in the park. Also, thanks to anti-poaching efforts, the elephant population is reported on the rise in southern Kenya’s Amboseli ecosystem.
President Obama recently issued an executive order to launch a $10-million anti-poaching initiative. A task force will allocate the money to African countries and help develop a U.S. strategy against wildlife trafficking.
Recently two U.S. states – New York and New Jersey – passed laws banning the sale and purchase of ivory products.
On August 9th at Brookhouse School in Karen, Kenya, a celebration was held in honor of the African elephant. Karanja says it’s important to get children involved in efforts to save the animal.
“We do want to speak to them because we will be handing the baton of guardianship of the wild lands and of the wildlife to them. So it is important that they get involved early enough and they understand what the issues are,” she said.
While August 12th is World Elephant Day, conservationists also are raising awareness about the rhino. In South Africa, home to most of Africa’s Rhinos, more than 1,000 were killed last year.
In related news, South Africa plans to evacuate hundreds of rhinos from Kruger National Park to safer locations. The rhinos have been targets of poachers even within the park's boundaries. Officials say as many as 500 rhinos could be re-located to other parks and communal areas. Neighboring countries may also serve as safe havens.