the elephant poaching problem – the sad death of Satao
I don’t often post external links on this blog, but this news and the associated story had a deep impact on me. That combined with some first hand accounts I’ve had recently from friends from South Africa regarding this problem that has now re-ignited like a forest fire out of control.
The elephant and rhino poaching problem has once again become an extremely urgent issue – quietly it seems, poachers have multiplied in numbers and their tactics have changed, from employment of locals using crude weapons and trapping, to that of highly militarized groups using night-vision equipment and high powered weapons. There is simply nowhere left for these animals to hide when facing an adversary such as this. If this continues, they will be gone from the wild.
While at a workshop recently with two trackers from South Africa who work closely with Kruger National Park in South Africa, I actually inquired about the possibility of using my tracking skills as part of a group to help combat poaching. There response was that at this time, they don’t need trackers – they need mercenaries with weapons. They shared first and second-hand accounts of rhino and elephant poaching and how once again it is out of control in most of Africa, and beyond the capabilities of the traditional anti-poaching squads to deter. Not only that, it seems many of the protective groups are slow to acknowledge that they need more help.
One of the main drivers fueling demand and higher prices is said to be the rising middle class in countries such as China, a country where much of the ivory and rhino horn goes. More people with disposable income, combined with lack of education around the issue, fuel the demand and the problem.
We’ve all heard stories about how intelligent elephants are, and anyone who spends time with any animals knows they are capable of feeling emotion and, in addition to their own intelligences (not all readily measured by human science), some of having an intellect akin to what humans have and measure. Elephants seem to be exceptional among the animals with regard to their intelligences and sensitivity.
Reading about this giant of an animal, Satao, who seemed to have the awareness to know that his giant tusks made him a target, simply leaves me in awe and breaks my heart.
If you are interested in helping, there are many opportunities to donate online. Spreading awareness of this issue globally, and education of the sectors feeding demand, is one approach to curbing the problem. Share these articles. Talk about it. Feet on the ground is also necessary, but not something most of us can easily support directly (see this article for an interesting approach that is now happening).
So keep Satao in your thoughts, and also consider how locally similar issues might apply and what you can do about them. Maybe it’s not poaching in your area that is the problem – maybe its encroachment of the human footprint into lands that are needed for the survival and flourishing of a healthy population of species. Maybe it’s helping to save some marsh land on a waterfront where high rise buildings or industry is set to replace a living, breeding, nesting area for many different species of animals that in turn help keep water healthy. Or helping to support people who are trying to create/maintain wildlife corridors that provide connections between wilder areas to help ensure genetic diversity in animal populations. Maybe it’s just being aware of how you use your own water and taking steps to conserve and respect that water. It all matters.
It’s interesting to understand why there are so few elephants with tusks as large as Satao’s. It’s called selective breeding. Beside the fact that animals with large tusks are targets and get killed quickly, as those animals with the biggest tusks are killed off, their opportunity to breed and pass those genes on is reduced. At the same time, the elephants with smaller tusks have more opportunity to breed. So there are fewer elephants with the genes to grow large tusks.
Perhaps that is the one thing that will save them – a population of tusk-less elephants.
[As a side note, it’s the same phenomenon that is supposedly happening in parts of the U.S. South with species of rattlesnakes, where groups have rattlesnake “round-ups” that consist of gathering all the rattlers they can find and killing them (I’ll refrain from commenting on that practice because I believe it goes without saying/writing). Because the snakes that are caught are typically ones that rattle, this activity after many years is supposedly helping to breed more rattlers that don’t rattle!! Nice work Sweetwater, Texas, better start making those rattlesnake skin boots triple ply!]
This world would be emptier and infinitely less interesting without wild elephants or rhinos. Or wolves. Or mountain lions. Or monarch butterflies. And less healthy. Humans are finally starting to understand the interconnected-ness of all life on this planet, and the health of our entire ecosystem, which directly affects humans, is jeopardized with every animal (or plant) that goes extinct or is relegated to being found only in zoos.
I remember the first time I moved to California from the East Coast, while on one of my first hikes came the realization that there are wild animals out here that could kill me (back East it was generally just people to be concerned about), and with that realization suddenly came an aliveness that made me remember my place in this world. It made me alive. It’s not about fear (as most of these animals don’t want to be anywhere near you, much less attach a person) – it’s about respect. As soon as we lose that respect for this world, part of us dies too.
That wildness has given me so much, and I don’t want it to be on my watch that our future generations lose this part of what it is to be a human being on this planet. For my sake, for humanities sake, for future generations sake, and for the sake of all the wonderful life that we share this Earth with, let’s use our “superior intellects” to make good choices and be good stewards of this place. We’ve certainly shown that we can do the opposite.