WHO CARES ABOUT ELEPHANTS?

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Ambuli Victor

The African
media is saturated with stories of
‘save our wildlife’. Save your
‘Jumbos’. Don’t kill our Big Five!
Save your future! I hardly have a
share in the Kenyan wildlife.
Wildlife isn’t my future. And the
media is only telling half the
story.
Who really cares about the
African elephant? Or you could
say the same about any other
wild animal in Africa. Who cares?
I am not being cynical here. I am
just trying to say that many
ordinary Africans couldn’t care
less if there were no wild animals
in their countries. For millions of
Africans today have never seen a
live wild animal. I mean this
seriously. Where in the world
have those teeming masses in
the slums of African cities ever
seen a leopard, an elephant or a
crocodile? I’m sure my mother
who is over 60 years old has
never seen an elephant, that
epitome of African wildlife.
But why do I care to tell you all
this? Because the African media
is saturated with stories of ‘save
our wildlife’. Save your ‘Jumbos’.
Don’t kill our Big Five! Save your
future! I hardly have a share in
the Kenyan wildlife. Wildlife isn’t
my future. What big five –
unemployment, poverty, hunger,
illness and death? That isn’t me
speaking. It was one of my
students. In a class of 40, not
one of them had even seen a
living cheetah. Nearly all of them
had seen a cheetah in the
newspapers or on TV or on
billboards. They’d met an
elephant. But only on a Kenyan
1000-shilling note. Many
wouldn’t know the difference
between a dikdik and an impala
or tell a crocodile from a monitor
lizard!
So, why bother
about saving
elephants?
Well, the
media and a
few Kenyans
who ‘care’
about
elephants and
other
‘endangered’
wild animals
are only telling half the story
about the wanton killing of wild
animals in Kenya and other
African countries. The first lie is
that these animals are the
collective heritage of all Kenyans/
Africans. No. African wildlife is a
preserve of the African elite,
game reserves owners and
tourists. It costs on average the
weekly wages of a causal worker
in Nairobi to enter the Nairobi
national park. Many ordinary
Kenyans can’t afford a trip to the
famed Maasai Mara game park.
There are more Americans who
know about the types and habits
of the animals in Maasai Mara
than there are Maasais, who live
in the same ecosystem with the
animals.
The second lie is about who is
killing the animals. The oldest
problems between wild animals
and human beings are poaching
and encroachment by either on
the other’s territory. Wild
animals will eventually figure out
where human beings live or use
and avoid them. Likewise, human
beings will fence off their spaces
or stay away from the animals’
haunts. Poaching happens
because people need the game
meat or animal trophy. In some
places poaching was simply a
means of controlling animal
population. Then poaching
mutated into a complex economy
that supports special interests in
game meat, hides and other
trophies. Today, elephant and
rhino populations are being
decimated for their tusks. But
who can dare game rangers with
sophisticated weaponry and
tracking systems and methods?
Who has the guts to risk death
just to kill one elephant?
But from whom do these
alleged Chinese traffickers buy
their trophies? A worker in
China’s largest ivory-carving
factory finishes a piece
symbolizing prosperity. China
legally bought 73 tons of ivory
from Africa in 2008; since
then, poaching and smuggling
have both soared. Photo:
Brent Stirton, Getty Images/
National Geographic
The Kenyan
and Tanzanian
media accuse
the Chinese of
trafficking in
elephant tusks
and rhino
horns. Well,
who do these
alleged
Chinese
traffickers buy
the trophies from, where, when,
how, and so on? Of course the
Chinese deny; but the Africans
continue to allege crime on the
part of our friends from the East.
What the media doesn’t say is
that history will tell you that
hunting elephants for tusks is a
very intricate (global) enterprise.
Orders are placed somewhere –
say in the East. Sophisticated
guns are bought somewhere –
say the West. Killers are
identified somewhere – say in
Nairobi. Gatherers and
transporters do the rest. But
remember that nearly all game
parks in East Africa are heavily
guarded and, in some cases,
under high-tech surveillance. No
small man in Nairobi or
Kilimanjaro can track down an
elephant, kill it, hack off the
tusks and transport them to the
market today. They will be risking
death from a game park ranger’s
gun or the mafia that controls
the trade in the trophies.
The whispers in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam – history records this
from the 1960s – is that people
who know important people are
the dealers in this art of killing.
That is why game rangers look
the other way as ‘important’
people visit game parks and
leave with animal trophies. This
is why the customs inspection of
animal products exports is a
sham that allows thousands of
kilos of tusks to leave the borders
of East African countries and rob
future generations of Africans
their heritage. This is why not
one significant person has been
prosecuted in the whole of East
Africa despite a scary rise in the
number of rhinos and elephants
killed. This is why no ordinary
Kenyan or Tanzanian or Uganda
would care whether the
elephants and rhinos are killed
or not.
And by the way, we could be
talking about disappearing
elephants and rhinos when
cheetahs, leopards, lions,
crocodiles etc are being killed
‘silently.’ But I care about
elephants because this
deliberate elimination of such a
visible animal could be a sign of
the future; a future in which
anything that the market wants
can be procured, including my
body. So, if you can speak about
the elephant in the room – the
evil silence which allows those
with the means to kill wildlife
wantonly – then speak about it.

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