Many of the years of my childhood were spent in Zimbabwe. My childhood was lived cheek by jowl with the flora and fauna of Africa, the flame lily and the baobab, the chameleon and the kudu. My introduction to the beauty and majesty of Africa’s natural world took place in the world-famous Hwange game reserve. There, crossing the dusty strip roads and deep in the shadowy thickets of the surrounding bush, were the sable antelope, the warthog, the giraffe and the elephant. It is hard to believe today, but the elephants were present then in such great numbers that the bush could not sustain them. The sheer size of their herds overpowered the reserve. Their massive numbers devoured the vegetation, leaving other wildlife to do the best they could in a denuded landscape. And so elephants were culled. There were simply too many of them. The reserve could not sustain them all. Their abundant numbers made culling necessary. Elephant meat was on the menu of some of the best and most expensive hotels.
It is not so now. Far from it. Africa is now facing an environmental crisis of desperately saddening proportions. The elephants are being slaughtered and many more are dying or being killed than are being born. These great and noble animals are being hunted and poached to the very brink of endangerment, if not extinction. Unless conservation groups and national governments can defeat the efforts of the poachers and the insatiable demands of the oriental and eastern markets for ivory, the African elephant will be like the dinosaur and the dodo. The long corridors of Africa along which they travelled from watering hole to watering hole will see them no more, and nor will we. This most astonishing and powerful of creatures will have been hunted to brutal nothingness within a matter of a few decades from now.
In a remarkable and desperately moving article about the struggle of the elephants to survive in Africa, David Mackenzie and Ingrid Formanek describe a pitiful scene on the ground. In Botswana, an elephant lies in a dry river bed:
He was a magnificent bull right in his prime, 45 to 50 years old. To get at his prized ivory tusks, poachers hacked off his face. Slaughtered for their ivory, the elephants are left to rot, their carcasses dotting the dry riverbed; in just two days, we counted the remains of more than 20 elephants in a small area. Visitors and managers at the tourist camps here are frequently alarmed by the sound of gunshots nearby.
Mike Chase, the founder of Elephants Without Borders (EWB), leads the Great Elephant Census, (GEC), a project to count the number of Africa’s elephants, from the air, using small aircraft flying an incredible number of hours across vast tracts of the African savannah. Before the Census, knowing the number of elephants in Africa was purely a matter of hints and hunches. Not so now:
Before the GEC, total elephant numbers were largely guesswork. But over the past two years, 90 scientists and 286 crew have taken to the air above 18 African countries, flying the equivalent of the distance to the moon — and a quarter of the way back — in almost 10,000 hours.
This is groundbreaking work – vital research if the true extent of human savagery towards the natural world is to be known and properly understood, and appropriate counter-measures introduced. The sheer scale of Man’s rejection of the wonder and joy of God’s hand in creation, and of his willingness to lay waste to the earth, is staggering:
Prior to European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained — and the census reveals that things have gotten far worse. According to the GEC, released Thursday in the open-access journal PeerJ, Africa’s savannah elephant population has been devastated, with just 352,271 animals in the countries surveyed — far lower than previous estimates.
Despite the poachers’ desire to make a quick buck, elephants are actually far more valuable alive than dead. Every elephant killed will earn a poacher just a few hundred dollars — the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of dollars its ivory fetches on the black market go to middlemen and organized crime gangs. By contrast, a live elephant can earn more than a million dollars for communities involved in eco-tourism, according to a report from The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (Genesis chapter 1 verse 26).