Writing for Vanity Fair, Alex Shoumatoff takes up the plight of the world’s elephants. With a long career as a journalist covering political and environmental situations and world affairs, Alex Shoumatoff edits DispatchesFromtheVanishingWorld.com, devoted to “documenting and raising awareness about the planet’s rapidly disappearing natural and cultural diversity.”
There is plenty of finger-pointing in ‘Agony and Ivory’ and many of the problems aren’t new, especially those focused on unemployment, poverty and feeding families in Africa.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Africa’s elephanticide epidemic cut the population from an estimated 1.3 million to some 600,000, and Kenya’s elephant population went from 120,000 to 15,000. (It is now about twice that.)
All agree that getting an exact count of the elephant population and the extent of the current slaughter is difficult. The consensus of ‘Agony and Ivory’ is that the illegal ivory trade is increasing at an alarming rate. While illegal ivory is transported far and wide, all fingers point to China and the rise of a middle class devoted to conspicuous consumption.
China’s Love of Illegal Ivory
Before the Chinese began building the 70-mile-long highway around Amboseli, there was no poaching for 30 years. Since 2009, four of Amboseli’s “magnificent big-tusked bulls have been killed” and now poachers seek to kill the matriarchs — the oldest, wisest female leaders of the elephant herds.
The Chinese are close to creating an “extinction vortex” among elephants in the Amboseli, choosing to slaughter or pay for the slaughter of the largest elephants as trophies.
Ninety percent of the arrests for possession of ivory at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta are Chinese nationals. Half the poaching in Kenya occurs within 20 miles of one of the five massive Chinese road-building projects. Over a million Chinese now live in Africa compared to 700,000 a decade ago.