"E" is for Elephant, "E" is for Extinction
"Essentially, you're seeing a culture under siege," began Gay Bradshaw. She is executive director of The Kerulos Center, and a psychologist and ecologist who is an expert on PTSD in elephants. Speaking in a recent interview broadcast on NPR's program Here and Now, Bradshaw continued: "You have the trauma, the shock, as well as the breakup of the society, which has profound psychological effects."
African elephant in Masai Mara National Park. Kenya. Africa (Kike Calvo via AP Images)
She was referring to the most recent abomination wrought upon these animals, the slaughter of hundreds of elephants in the Cameroons since January. Bouba Ndjida National Park in northern Cameroon has been home to about 1,000 elephants. Estimates vary but it appears that over half of them may have been slaughtered in the last few months. The perpetrators are said to be from Sudan and Chad, and descriptions of their modus operandi and descriptions of their modus operandi make for chilling reading.The invaders come "riding on horseback and with camels to carry their booty" and "have taken advantage of the dry season to launch their killing spree."
Other reports paint an equally grim picture of these well-organized attackers who have access to high powered military-style rifles and other sophisticated weapons, including grenade launchers with which to attack the animals. Not only can they kill with greater efficiency, they can elude capture.
Most accounts agree that the Cameroonian government sat on its hands for almost two months; and when it finally responded to international criticism and calls to take urgent measures to protect elephants, it was a question of too little, too late. In March the government sent about 600 troops, helicopters and surveillance planes. By then there were fears that the rampage was moving into neighboring Chad, which has a park bordering on Bouba Ndjida, according to Celine Sissler Bienvenu, IFAW's director in France. That group has been working with authorities in both Cameroon and Chad to increase the capabilities of the rangers assigned to protect these animals, and to urge cooperation between the governments. The European Union has also called upon governments in the region to take appropriate emergency measures to protect elephants.
Gay Bradshaw gives context to what has been happening to elephants. For centuries, these animals formed a "vast civilization" across both Africa and Asia, with strong family ties and a highly developed culture. Their interaction with humans was one of "peaceful coexistence." In the last several hundred years (and more acutely in the last decade), that has changed, with accelerating destruction of the animals' habitat and the animals themselves. Bradshaw says that the elephants' society is now at a breaking point, with the entire fabric of the community falling apart. This is not unlike the effect that genocide or war has on humans.
The damage wrought by the killings, is "irrevocable" according to Bradshaw. The trauma doesn't go away, and the lessons from human history show that genocides such as what elephants are facing leaves scars on both the body and the brain. Her response to studies showing that elephants may be extinct within 20 years? It's "completely logical," and "not an unlikely scenario." As she says, there are many local extinctions occurring now.
Although trade in ivory was banned in 1989 by CITES (Convention on Trade in International Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), there is a lucrative black market trade in this and other animal-derived products (rhino horns, tiger bones, bear bile, and the meat itself; an analysis of the scope of the problem is here).
Ivory carving confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service,
Credit Rachel Nuwer
Although not exclusively so (and although increasingly finding customers online), much of the market is in China and Vietnam, where ancient cultural traditions are mixing with increasing affluence and the rise of a middle class to create a perfect storm which threatens the continuing existence of species such as elephants.
There's money to be made by the sale of ivory. And when human avarice comes up against animals, the animals always lose. Thus, in this equation, "E" is also for "Economics."
(Note: Dr. Bradshaw authored the ASI's policy paper, Elephants in Captivity about the trauma suffered by these elephants, and co-authored our most recent paper, The Bioethics of Great Ape Well-being.)
Bee Friedlander, 4/8/2012
Published by admin on 04/09/2012 00:29:45