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Could This Be the End for African Elephants?

In the wild of Tanzania, a group of terrified elephants huddle together, hiding. Hiding from the most voracious of predators – humans.

They’ve watched people slaughter their kin. They’ve seen orphaned calves die of starvation after their mothers were killed and looted for their ivory. They’ve changed their behavior to avoid human contact at all cost — becoming nocturnal, staying where the bush is deeper.

These intelligent creatures know exactly what’s going on: genocide, as biologist Richard Ruggiero puts it. Massive killing at the hands of greedy people who hunt illegally.

But this kind of poaching will stop eventually… at this rate, because of extinction.

The numbers are staggering: an estimated 96 elephants are slain every day. Two-thirds of Tanzania’s elephants have vanished in the past four years alone. If the massacres continue like this, African elephants in some parts of the continent could disappear entirely within the next few decades.

All in the name of profit, with poachers driven by booming ivory demands and prices.

And believe it or not, a sizable part of those demands come from the United States; the ivory market on our own soil is dwarfed only by China’s.

But the U.S. is taking action to change that.

During President Obama’s recent visit to Kenya, he declared a crackdown on our country’s ivory trade. The law, which will be implemented by the end of the year, will virtually ban sales; it’ll tighten international trade policies. It will also forbid interstate trade on large amounts of ivory, as well as ivory that’s less than 100 years old.

In the past, however, people have wormed their way around U.S. ivory-selling restrictions by making the material seem older than it really was, or calling it mammoth ivory, or even cow bone. Will these new laws have the power to stop them? We’ll see.

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Whatever the case, we can’t afford to ignore the plight of African elephants any longer.

August 12th is World Elephant Day, and we must seize that opportunity to spread awareness. Poachers will not stop unless they’re given a very good reason, and if we work together, we have the power to become that very good reason. We can work to reduce the market value and social acceptance of ivory, to implement better surveillance techniques, and to pressure governments to take an active hand in preventing poaching. We need to educate people about the situation; some consumers in China don’t even know that elephants are killed for the ivory harvest to be possible.

We also need to stand with African countries to help them stop poaching in its tracks. If you feel inclined to do so, please consider donating to help make this a reality for the elephants of Kenya. You can make a difference; you can help us save the African elephant!

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A. Stout is a Whovian, Potterhead, study abroad alumna, and animal lover. A native to West Michigan, she dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world.