Chady is an outspoken naturalist and educator who cares about his country and believes the next generation is key to curbing elephant poaching and saving this iconic species.
For the past year or so I’ve been drawn to Kenya. Although but a small African country it is home to many wildlife conservationists, Santosian Noor and Chady Lolosoli being but two I look forward to meeting later this year.
During our Spotlight on Species campaign Chady wanted to get involved. Here is why he wants us all to get involved to stop the elephant poaching in Africa.
Why I want to save Elephants
It is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 African elephants are poached each year to satisfy the global demand – in China and throughout Southeast Asia, but also in the United States – for their ivory. Surely we’ve learned from conservation history and still remember the 1970s and 1980s when the African elephant population was fundamentally cut in half from 1.3 million animals to roughly 600,000. What’s clear is that as long as the illegal international ivory trade and domestic, sometimes legal markets continue, more and more elephants will be poached. And some particularly fragile populations may be lost forever in our lifetime.
Many people don’t understand the vital role that elephants play in the delicate dance performed throughout the African ecosystems. Elephants are considered a keystone species in the African landscape. That means elephants play a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community.
What Elephants actually do
- They create trails that act as firebreaks and water run offs.
- The nutrient-rich manure replenishes depleted soils so that humans can have a nutrient rich soil to plant crops in.
- They pull down trees and break up thorny bushes, which help to create grasslands for other animals to survive.
- They create salt licks that are rich in nutrients for other animals.
- They dig waterholes in dry riverbeds that other animals can use as a water source.
- Elephant dung is important to the environment as well. Baboons and birds pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts, and dung beetles reproduce in these deposits.
- Their footprints create deep holes that water can collect in.
- Other animals, including humans, depend on the openings elephants create in the forest and brush and on the waterholes they dig.
- Elephant droppings are also a vehicle for seed dispersal. Some seeds will not germinate unless they have passed through an elephant’s digestive system
But there is more
Elephants are an iconic species, gentle giant creatures about which we know only a fraction of what there is to learn:
The African savannah elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. A mature bull elephant may stand up to 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 14,000 pounds. The most noticeable distinction between African savannah and forest elephants is size: The savannah is larger and has bigger and more curved tusks. Asian elephants have much smaller ears than both African species and usually, only the male Asian elephant sports tusks.
In folklore, elephants are known for not forgetting. For the African savannah elephant, memory is a tool for surviving challenges that may come intermittently over decades. Long-term memory tends to be vested in the older females, called matriarchs, without which the herd could die of starvation or dehydration. Unfortunately, these large females are the most attractive targets for ivory poachers, because they tend to have larger tusk and they may be easier to find than male.
What you might not know about Elephants
- Elephants have complex social behavior. When a member of the herd dies, they cover the body with grass and dirt and stay near the site for several hours.
- African savannah elephants communicate across great distances at low frequencies that cannot be heard by humans.
- An elephant herd consists of related females and their young and is managed by the eldest female. Adult male elephants rarely join a herd and lead a solitary life, only approaching herds during mating season.
- African savannah elephants may live up to 70 years in the wild, longer than any other mammals except humans.
- An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles and tendons. The trunk can lift large objects, yet its sensitive tip can manipulate very small things.
What will happen to the ecosystems?
No one knows what will happen to the ecosystems that elephants support if they vanish from the wild. There are many reasons why many of us humans like and even love elephants… there is some kind of kinship that is hard to pin down.
The value of Elephants
Elephants are a big draw for safari clients and as such are important if not critical income generators for people with few other sources. They have economic value, but perhaps more importantly, there is a powerful moral value.
To stop the poaching and create the issue of sustainability, we should consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts of elephant poaching and what can be done to stop it. But I believe that the economic portion is largely in effect here, so I’ll predominantly address that.
One of the main problems is that poachers are offered such huge sums of money to kill elephants for their tusks. To a poor man struggling to feed his family, the life of a single elephant is certainly worth being able to support his family. Thus, people have an economic incentive to poach elephants. This overcomes any idea of protecting the environment or cultural connection with the elephant.
How to turn the tide
To fight such strong incentive of money; I suggest we can turn this system around and use money as an incentive for saving the elephants. Tourism is a huge source of revenue for countries with big game populations. Tens of thousands of tourists per year visit countries to go on safaris and see the lion, the giraffe, the antelopes and especially the majestic elephant in its natural habitat. But what happens when the elephant is extinct? Will people still pay thousands of dollars to see the empty plains? They will not. So in the long run, poaching is actually hurting the economies of these countries.
I believe that spreading awareness of this idea is a key in changing the mindset that poaching is a legitimate way of life. The governments should offer stakes in tourist businesses so locals can profit from them and not feel the need to poach. Local watchdog groups can be formed to identify potential poachers and stop it before it happens.
We know that education is the key to every developing countries and communities.
When people become educated they are more apt to understand the connectedness of all life.
They begin to understand how everything they do has a ripple effect.
In the case of rising wealth in Asian countries and the hunger to show wealth, one needs to ask; do the people who buy ivory even care about the elephants? Would they stop if they knew? Would the poacher stop if he had access to work that he could do to feed his family and gradually acquire the material things he is willing to risk his life for, now; Perhaps eco-tourism?
But with solutions, like here in Kenya where lots of poachers have been rehabilitated and offered jobs, creation of community owned conservancies and a growing trend of eco-tourism and some project and governments are cashing in on it. These established developments have seen local people benefit greatly from it, and they have become very possessive about “their” animals, thwarting poachers of animals and plants. Work must be put in at the local level to spread awareness of the importance of the elephant, and show the people that is profitable to save the elephants.
The Human and Animal Impact of Poaching
The outrageous impacts of elephant poaching are well-known; it is brutal, shameful, and unnecessary; entire elephant families are gunned down and animals’ faces are literally hacked away to extract the valuable tusks.
Allowing this trade to flourish has expressed a lot of danger and grave risk to the people not elephants alone. Park rangers who literally lay their lives on the line each day to save their national treasures, their resident wildlife, are gunned down in the line of duty leaving families behind. These conservation heroes are underfunded and ill-equipped to face the organized, well-armed gangs that seek to deprive them of their natural wealth and riches. This remind me of several guys-community conservation scouts who lost lives to poachers… I worked with them.
Habitat loss and poaching are the biggest concerns for the survival of elephants. As the human footprint has grown in Africa, elephant habitats have been converted to farmland, deforested by industrial logging and mining, and otherwise developed by roads and settlements.
Poachers kill elephants for their ivory and meat, and farmers sometimes kill them to protect their crops, which elephants often raid as well competition for scarce resources with livestock. But we also know that the elephant poaching machine has become increasing militarized and professional, with political players and corrupt officials complicit in the trade.
Contributed by Chady C. Lolosoli
Connect with Chady on Facebook and learn about his education programs.