OnSafari: Elephant Hysteria

OnSafari: Elephant Hysteria

woolycircusElephant hysteria has reached a new high, and I left Botswana amazed at how dangerously unorganized elephant protection is.

The almighty and by this writer much revered CITES seems wobbling. African research organizations nip at each rather than cooperate to gather much needed facts. Positive moves in China get ignored so the country can be bashed still again. Meaningless grandstanding gets the headlines.

And so, we clone a wooly mammoth?

I’m not kidding. Within four years we’re going to have a live wooly mammoth, with DNA from a permafrosted 3300 year-old baby slipped into the DNA of a healthy modern elephant by Harvard researchers.

Zimbabwe is among the best places to traffic ivory, and now even live elephants. In blatant disregard of CITES, Zimbabwe is sending 34 baby elephants to Asia and Arabia.

The outcry was formidable, but not a single country in CITES asked that the treaty enforcement provisions be applied to Zimbabwe.

It’s a circus, folks. At least for three more years. That’s when Ringling Brothers has announced they will discontinue using elephants. Jump to hashtag #3YrsTooLong.

What you have is a mess. Nobody really knows how much poaching is going on. The reported figures are so disparate as to be laughable.

The once respectable Save The Elephant Fund issued a critical news release claiming that 50,000 elephant were poached annually, while the also once respectable National Geographic said 25,000.

Think one of them’s wrong? Or both?

We have no idea how many elephant are being poached, for the same reason that we have no idea how many elephant there are. African government wildlife agencies don’t undertake counts or can’t be trusted, and not-for-profit wildlife NGOs refuse to cooperate because it might jeopardize their fund raising.

One of the most respected government wildlife agencies, the Kenyan Wildlife Service, sacked five top officials last year for involvement in the ivory trade. Hardly a day after one of Kenya’s most notorious wildlife traffickers was arrested on an Interpol warrant, the man jumped bail.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Government – probably among the top conduits for illegal ivory – won headlines worldwide for burning ivory and proclaiming a “Zero Tolerance” for wildlife poaching. But no journalist noticed that the entire top of the pyre was actual carved ivory sculptures and trinkets. Ivory isn’t carved until it gets to Asia. Where did that come from?

You confused? Join the pack.

His Excellency the honorable Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, told a conference in Botswana last week that any elephant problem that exists doesn’t come from Botswana elephants, but “ensues from elephants that migrate from neighboring countries,” which – he then deduced for us – means that those countries have serious problems.

We just finished a successful safari in Botswana, and we didn’t see all that many elephants, but I’m told more elephants exist in Botswana than anywhere else on earth.

Do I believe that?

Jim filed this from Arusha, Tanzania.