WWF UK Blog  

Elephant crisis – what poaching does to animals, environments and people


Dr Kate Evans is the director and founder of Elephants for Africa. She started her research over a decade ago, looking at adolescent male elephants in the Okavango Delta and how they socialise – with an emphasis on how captive-bred animals would react in a wild environment. Here she talks about how complex these beautiful (and emotional) animals are:

“Elephants have always been my passion, and growing up the poaching crisis of the 1970s and 80s had a massive impact on the journey that my life would take. Since 2002 I have been studying the elephants of Botswana, home to the largest remaining population in the world. My particular interest is male elephants and their ecological and social requirements.

Observing and documenting elephants is key in understanding their behaviour – and how humans affect it. © Mphoeng Ofithile

The charity Elephants for Africa was founded in 2007 to support research and education towards the conservation of the African elephants, and we have since expanded to include projects in Ethiopia and South Africa.

I am shocked, but not surprised, to find ourselves in the middle of another poaching crisis, one that is having massive impact throughout the African continent. A small trinket or a large extravagant ornament made of ivory will have had a bloody start as most ivory these days is illegal; hacked from the face of a dead or dying elephant.

Whole herds are being gunned down, calves and adults alike, left to rot in the African sun in a pool of blood to feed humanity’s thirst for ivory.

This mass loss of individuals leads to the breakdown of family units and elephant society at large, leaving herds of leaderless elephants trying to make their way through their home that has become a war zone.

Analysis involves looking at everything we can do with elephants… © Dr Ricardo Stanoss

I have seen dead elephants, the bodies of young and old that have died of natural causes, and I have seen elephants visit those carcasses and grieve. One young male I know guarded the dead body of a much older male for three days, chasing the scavengers off.

We have to ask ourselves, what does an elephant do, feel or think when they come across a whole herd of dead elephants? Are they aware of who is responsible? What are the consequences for us humans?

I have come across bush meat poachers whilst by myself in the field and slept with a machete under my pillow in fear of reprisals. Thankfully I’ve never needed to defend myself, but the rangers and wardens that are out there in the field protecting our elephants get my utmost respect. They show no fear, yet they often come across poachers better equipped than themselves and risk their lives daily.

A close encounter with Seba! © Simon Buckingham

Our researcher in Ethiopia has seen the devastation first-hand, with reports of 66 elephants poached in recent months. With only an estimated 150—250 left in Babile Elephant Sanctuary, this loss is devastating – not only to the elephants but also to the ecology of the area if they were to lose this keystone species.

A sea of humanity isolates this population, so if the last elephant were to die there would be no natural repopulation – leading to irreversible change within the system, which would affect the animals and people that rely on this wilderness area.

Even Botswana, a safe haven for wildlife for so long can no longer escape the bloody tide and more and more reports of poaching are emerging.

We cannot fully comprehend the extent of the impact the extinction of the African elephant will have on the ecology and economy of Africa, yet this is where we are heading if we do not stop the illegal ivory trade.

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  • Connie

    It’s so heart braking to hear that our wild life especially Elephants are going through such devastating times.
    We really need these beautiful and majestic animals in our life’s, without Elephant, rhinos and other wild life, this world would be a cold and lonely place without beauty and grace. Stop this Cruel poaching of the world Animals please. Thank’s to all you people that are risking your own life’s for the sake of wild life.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisbaldwingb Chris Baldwin

    There is no reason on earth that poaching is necessary!!

    These stupid and ignorant customers need to be educated fast, or if not, need to burn with the poachers!!

  • Alan R

    Dr.Kate Evans says it all, thanks to her expertise and absolute devotion to African elephants. We need to support all concerned with the preservation of the very few elephants left on our planet. This can be done only by arming the rangers with better equipment than that of the poachers. Sadly education is not enough for the greed and profits made in the world of the buyers of ivory. Every nation needs to sign up to a treaty to through harsh fines and imprisonment for a very substantial time for all poachers, dealers and importers of tusks and rhino horns. Thank you Kate for your life time endeavours. We as a family are behind you and the WWF.

  • Olive

    When will humans understand the importance of biodiversity ? The act of poaching will sadly never stop as the humans are so greedy. People protecting elephants have my huge respect, amazing job. the last years have been terrible with hundred of elephants killed in Africa by some kind of hard poachers, countries have to gather and create special army to defend their treasure

  • http://www.facebook.com/jordana.quezada Jordana Quezada

    I just can’t believe this is happening. Elephants are the too beautiful and important for one to resist. The only reason I can think of why a population of people would want ivory is due to lack of awareness of an elephants importance and where ivory actually derives from and what it actually costs to buy some! Awareness is the best path to resolve this issue. Lets spread some.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacky.dragon Chong Zan Yang

    i hate the trinket made by ivory.After read this message, i will not buy the things made by ivory,because i don want to see more elephant sacrifice for the selfish of the human

  • Linda

    Absolutely! Stop the illegal trade of ivory and put huge fines on the people who sell it, and the people who buy it maybe even going as far as a death or jail sentence, and then police it.

  • Erwin

    All those who buy ivory should be aware that chewing their finger nails has the same effect, it’s free and always available wherever they go. If they add chili to their fingertips makes it even better! YES! :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1371578932 Trang Nguyen

      I think you mistaken it with Rhino’s horn. They bought elephant ivory for luxury goods but not medicine, and ivory are made of similar stuff to our teeth, not finger nails.

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