“The most effectual method to keep men honest is to enable them to live so. The tenderness of conscience is too often overmatched by the sharpness of want; and principle, like chastity, yields with just reluctance enough to excuse itself.”
Immediately after a 1989 international trade ban on ivory, illegal elephant poaching was nearly stopped dead in its tracks. Now, some eighteen years later, poachers have come back with a vengeance, due in large part to the fact the enforcement of the trade ban has declined through lack of funding from countries most effected by the poaching.
Many of these countries, such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, are poor and ensnared in economic and political turmoil. It is difficult for such governments to fund the enforcement necessary to protect the African Elephant from poachers. In the year ending August of 2006, up to five percent of the remaining elephant population in Africa was slaughtered, amounting to more than 23,000 elephants and 240 tons of ivory.
We here in the West probably don’t think of Elephants too much. We’ve got other things to worry about. For those that have perhaps only seen an elephant in the zoo, mere words will fall short in describing what it is to be there, in the Land of the Elephant.
To listen as they trumpet and wail in the night. To quietly watch as they lumber single file out of the hills to drink and wash in the river. To look sorrowfully and heartbroken at the site of a baby calf, lying still on the ground with no apparent wounds, very recently and mysteriously deceased; and then remember the haunting wail heard the night before; the sound of a mother mourning her young.
Later to witness the joy of two adolescents as they happily and playfully cross the river, splashing mischievously, much like any adolescent would.
Watching the slow, almost reverent, familial procession through the bush to the river, a great matriarch dipping her massive trunk for a drink; the reflection of her majestic frame rolling gently in the placid Chobe.
I am able to feel such feelings for the elephant because I am allowed. I do not burn with hunger and poverty, and I live in a land that is relatively free from political strife.
Many of Humankind’s problems are solved, at least initially, through economic incentive. If countries too poor to feed and protect their own human population are expected to fund enforcement of illegal trade laws and stop poaching, then perhaps we fail to heed the words of Thomas Paine. The international community needs to step up and provide funding and support to enforce the ban on the illegal ivory trade. It isn’t hard, or even that expensive, for rich nations to do so, it takes nothing but a desire to get it done. We did it before, and we must do it again. Saving the elephant is, in part, saving ourselves.
I wish to believe that the money I spent two years ago to journey to the Land of the Elephant helped to provide, if just a little bit, the means for those living in Botswana to live an honest life. And they, in turn, helped me do the same, if just a little bit, by allowing me to witness first-hand the power and majestic beauty of the Elephant and the land she occupies.
Nothing connects one to the earth and all its creatures more than standing quietly in the yawning dusk of the African savannah, watching a family of great elephants move quietly through the tall grass. To this day, chills go up my spine remembering that day, how humbled and awestruck it was to actually be there, in the Land of the Elephant.
Help save the elephant, and be true to the words of Thomas Paine.