Earth Day Network

Where Are All the African Elephants?

Ivory trade is making a comeback in old markets in Asia

Climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution are just some of the factors threatening elephants. The ivory market has single-handedly wiped out thousands of elephants. In the mid-1980s at the height of the ivory market, Africa lost nearly 600,000 elephants in a decade. Strict Ivory bans have been established in many countries since then but Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa are trying to lift the international ban on the sale of ivory which was made global in 1989.

 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is responsible for regulating the sale of ivory. They gather every three years to decide which species need protection, and how to do it. This September, the three countries will try to appeal the ban.

 

A reviving ivory market in Asia is driving this motivation. Low and middle-income populations across Asia are using it as a status symbol of wealth. Chopsticks, family seals, statues, jewelry and religious artifacts made out of ivory are all making a comeback.

 

What’s so bad about making ivory legal? Elephants populations around the world are already going down and also getting more spread out in a process called “islandisation.” Elephants are forced into national park areas that restrict their movement so much so that elephants are on an ‘island’ with small populations and limited genetic diversity.

 

Elephants are also a keystone species, meaning they help maintain the balance of all other species in their community. Elephants have the power to uproot trees (creating grassland for other animals), dig waterholes in dry riverbeds, and create trails in thick underbrush. Even their manure helps replenish nutrient depleted soil.

 

With only around 400,000 elephants left in Africa, allowing ivory trade to flourish will mean the decline of the species—possibly forever.