The Elephant isn’t in The Room

The Elephant isn’t in The Room

elenotintheroomElephant poaching is less important than jobs, energy, poverty and a host of other domestic African issues and until westerners embrace this, poaching will continue to increase.

At yesterday’s “historic“ African summit in Washington so many meetings and public forums occurred that Washington police had to close some of the city’s main roads, with limo lines moving back and forth causing their own congestion.

Most of the dozens of official gatherings were about trade, ending poverty, honoring former champions of American/African relationships, etc.

Bill Clinton spent twenty minutes speaking to Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta at an event honoring Andrew Young.

Trade and investment trumped all other topics, as they should. The continent is growing by 5.7%. Middle class consumers in Africa will soon approach a half billion in number. China is edging all other players out of opportunities. There’s a lot to talk about.

One of these many formal and countless informal meetings was about elephant poaching. It attracted four African Heads of State, four of the least important movers and shakers on the continent.

NPR, of course, covered it. This is because it’s an issue which resonates with the liberal leaning Americans who need good morning news fixes.

Americans tend to look at the world through myopic lenses that focus their own passions at the exclusion of greater but to them peripheral issues. It’s as true of the liberal as conservative.

And I’ve always pointed out that the liberal/conservationist attitude towards elephant poaching has not just distorted it but distracted our important attention from other issues.

Let me state again: elephant poaching is on the rise and is a serious concern for African conservation, today. But it’s on the rise for reasons other than just that there are bad guys and evil Chinese antique dealers.

Yesterday, for example, the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) did an audit of the 12 elephants that died in the last year in or near Amboseli National Park, Kenya’s most important elephant park.

Four died of natural causes: 33%.

Of the remaining eight, three were due to what officials called “human-wildlife” conflict, which I’ve often discussed: 25%.

I actually think this is the most serious problem, because it’s turning local sentiment against conservation. As Africa develops so rapidly, the conflict with the wilderness increases exponentially as that wilderness is better and better protected.

It’s one thing to have monkeys pinching the cookies you left out for your kids when they come home from school. It’s quite another when the elephant walks through their school or, god forbid, steps on the kids.

The remaining 5 of the 12 elephants were determined to have been “poached.” In other words, intentionally killed for illicit gain: 42%.

The media is rife with explaining and arguing whether the market for ivory or the price given at the source for ivory or corruption among wildlife officials or other bad things is responsible for this poaching.

“Julius Cheptei, the Assistant Director for the Southern Conservation Area, argues that there is a strong link between the swelling cases of poaching and the possibility that people are looking for traditional medication,” according to reporters covering the KWS Amboseli announcement. The reporter continues:

“Given the growing populations and spreading popularity of traditional medicines globally, experts say the demand for these natural remedies is increasing.”

The official continued to explain that often poachers are not interested in the ivory but in the elephant’s “private parts.”

As always, I’m not saying elephant poaching today is not a serious issue, and one report as above does not an issue settle.

I’m just saying, again and again, get a perspective.