African elephants drew the international spotlight in June 2014 when poachers killed Satao, a well-loved icon of elephant-kind in Kenya, for his giant ivories, but their endangerment is winning them new allies in the fight to survive. A new measure came before the U.S. House of Representatives this week in an attempt to honor the slain African elephant by enacting stricter sanctions against poachers to interrupt the supply and demand chain and put the ivory market out of business. Conservation activists plan to march in support of ending the killings and banning the ivory trade before the demand causes the extinction of the elephants.
Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC) known for his alliance with wildlife conservation and advocacy on behalf of endangered species, introduced a new bill that aims to produce a win for the beleaguered African elephants by holding countries responsible for their failure to protect the majestic pachyderms. The TUSKER Act (Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants in Their Range) would enforce trade sanctions against countries that do not take measures to discontinue the ivory trade or turn a blind eye to the travesties enacted upon the animals within their borders. The committee will hear and review the bill before deciding whether to move forward with it.
DeFazio cites 2013 statistics of about 40,000 elephant slaughters and more than 1,000 deaths of park rangers, killed while attempting to protect endangered species. He charges that money from illegal elephant trafficking funds the criminal activities of drug syndicates, gunrunners and human trafficking operations as well as terrorist groups whose activities destabilize large regions of Africa and threaten U.S. national security. His goal is to put a stranglehold on the market to send a bold message of economic consequences for countries that allow illegal trafficking to continue unhindered.
Wildlife advocacy groups hope that the legislative effort will stop the record level slaughter of the African elephant to satisfy the global demand for ivory. Born Free USA’s CEO, Adam M. Roberts characterizes the poaching problem as a crisis bordering on extinction for some elephants whose birth rate cannot keep up with the kill rate. He confirms DeFazio’s link between poaching, criminal and terrorist organizations. DeFazio’s web page reports that the White House National Security Council and the UN Security Council estimates profits from the trafficking of elephant ivory to be between $7 billion and $10 billion per year which has been linked to funding for organizations such as Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda offshoot terrorist group, Uganda’s Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and Darfur’s Janjaweed.
Roberts urges all members of Congress to support Representative DeFazio’s bold advocacy of protecting the vulnerable African elephant populations. The World Wildlife Fund explains that the dwindling population and possible extinction of elephants has extensive effects on the habitats of many species. As many as 30 percent of tree species in Central African forests propagate themselves by means of elephants carrying their seeds far and wide for germination. They are an essential link in the vitality and health of their environment because of the chain reaction in the web of life. If the African elephants’ contributions to fresh water, forest cover and other factors in a healthy habitat were to disappear, the entire web of life surrounding them would suffer.
The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is sounding a call to action for the survival of these immense creatures. They urge people to join their voice to the outcry demanding protection from extinction by participating in one of the advocacy marches planned for Oct. 4, 2014. They hope to raise public awareness of the poaching crisis that endangers the African elephants as well as other species and win new allies in the battle to ban the ivory trade and give the animals a chance to recover their populations before it is too late. The TUSKER bill’s call for more rigorous protection of the African elephant is one step in their appeal for national governments around the world to intercede on behalf of species endangered by wildlife crime, in order to give the creatures a safe haven in which to recoup their losses and reclaim a healthy and sustainable population for the continuance of the species.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Global March for Elephants and Rhinos
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: African Elephants
World Wildlife Fund
Born Free USA
Congressman Peter DeFazio
Photo Provided by Angela White–Taken in Uganda, 2012