The "white gold" trade is taking its toll on elephants and their numbers are being decimated at an alarming rate. The ivory trade is booming thanks to the "looking the other way" of officials in charge as greased palms bring some sort of justification of this heartless crime. To be fair, there are those who become the voice for these victims and of their safety and well-being. Although this trade's roots can be traced back to days gone by, what is causing concern is the rate of deaths occurring each month.
The statistics show the rising figures which have shaken the fabric of accepted behaviour in our civilised society and the merciless torture of these elephants. Innate greed for jewellery and religious art objects may be reasons, but also with lax laws and with so many who escape the long arm of the law and grow more confident in carrying out this illegal trade right under the noses of the "protectors of the law" is of grave concern.
The problem is huge and seeing graphic photos of elephants hunted down and left to die a painful death, we simply can't give up. While we read accounts of animal lovers who have rescued many and spent their own funds to give them a better life, sadly these accounts are few and far between.
The tide is turning though, and now we see activists bringing about an awareness of the current situation. It's on the global stage, and on the home front, the Prime Minister is also involved. The focus is on what steps are being taken and whether it will eventually be swept under the rug once the heat is off. Along with the ivory trade comes the exploitation and abuse of elephants here in Thailand, in the form of entertainment for tourists, and being paraded on the streets. Their training can be abusive, but that is not in the public eye. It's another matter altogether when they have humane mahouts who train them to carry logs or used to transport goods. But where can the line be drawn, and under whose supervision?
In most Asian countries, elephants have a spiritual significance and maybe that has saved them from outright slaughter as compared to their African counterparts. In Africa, in the midst of tribal warfare, not to mention greed and power, there's not only "blood diamonds", but "blood ivory". The barbaric slaughter is lining the coffers of warlords and the proceeds are used to buy weapons and exert power. Those who dare to expose this crime put themselves and others' lives at risk.
The slaughter at hand is so horrific that the methods used to kill elephants are unimaginable. They are herded into army trucks and tied down on railway tracks _ the speeding trains do the rest. Others are poisoned and their tusks removed; others are starved to death. Now it's not just the locals we're dealing with, but international poachers. This is the present scene so now let's examine briefly what it was like in times gone by.
Elephants are among the most exploited animals in human history.
Ivory was sought after by Indians, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and the British Empire. Ivory funded slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries and was the main financial incentive for colonial exploitation of Africa.
A sad fact emerges: almost one out of three Asian elephants in the world live in captivity. The Asian elephant is extinct in West Asia, Java and most of China. The decline should sound off alarms. About 100 years ago there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand, now there are about 3,500.
The history of the ivory trade resulted in reducing Africa's elephant population from 26 million elephants in 1800 to less than one million today. Pressure from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which sanctioned sales of ivory, resulted in retaliation and the killing of 25,000 elephants in Africa last year.
The good old days were not so for the elephant population as compared to the present day where technology is on the rise and the world is being made aware of the need to take drastic action against poachers and all guilty of such brutal killings. Animal lovers and activists are joining in the march to save the gentle giants. It may take time to bring this illegal trade to a complete halt, but jewellery, piano keys, and religious art objects need to come under much stricter scrutiny.
Bringing about the awareness of this plight, the education department can be a great resource to educate children of the evils and dangers facing the elephants, and if we all do the little we can, it will make a difference. Spot checks on businesses selling ivory items, illegally of course, can lead to the source of the supply as the demand is growing. Stiff penalties imposed on poachers and laws should be set in place to punish offenders. Law enforcement officers should be taught to be on the alert to apprehend the culprits. An incentive given to officers, be it in the form of cash rewards or promotions, would be another solution to this problem. Village chiefs and spiritual heads have significant influence and their opinions carry weight. If these and other avenues are explored and worked out it should make a world of a difference. A lesson repeated over and over again will not be easily forgotten, even after the conventions are over. It will not be "business as usual".
Yvonne Bohwongprasert is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert