Noble beast is under siege

RECENT events in Cork have put the spotlight on elephants.

The world’s largest land animal is in all sorts of trouble.

As human populations grow, more land is being farmed in Africa and Southeast Asia. Elephants, deprived of living space, are becoming more aggressive. A poor farmer’s plot can be invaded by hungry animals and his crop wiped out in a matter of hours; tempers flare and villagers take the law into their own hands.

Meanwhile, poaching for the illegal ivory trade has reached epidemic proportions. Now it’s reported millionaire hunters are shooting the noble beasts, while elephant numbers in South Africa’s Kruger Park have increased so much that they threaten the ecosystem on which they depend.

Mobile phone footage of Baby, the 40-year-old female being subdued in the car park of a Cork shopping centre, appeared on television screens all over the world. Newspapers everywhere carried the story, the Pakistan Daily Times reporting that ‘the footage has been labelled a wake-up-call by the Animal Rights Action Network’.

Initially, the coverage of Baby’s bid for freedom was good-humoured. She was due to take a shower and didn’t relish the prospect on a cool March day, said one report. Then, on Mar 21, things turned nasty. Circus worker Justino Munez was seriously injured when he was crushed under Baby during a tussle between two elephants.

These powerful beasts can be unpredictable; serious incidents, like the one in Cork, are relatively common with working elephants in South East Asia.

Meanwhile, photographs of Donald Trump Junior have surfaced on the web. He appears next to a dead elephant while on a hunting trip to Zimbabwe. Trump is seen holding the animal’s tail in one hand and a knife in the other. A rifle rests against the carcass. Another photograph shows Trump and his brother Eric standing beside a large crocodile which is hanging by its neck from the branch of a tree. In their defence, the Trumps claim that meat from the animals they shot was donated to local villagers.

But not all celebrities share the Trumps’ attitude to wildlife. According to the online magazine Wildlife News, the game-show host Bob Barker is providing $3m to transport three elephants from Canada to California. The elephants, no longer wanted by Toronto Zoo, were to be taken by truck.

When Barker heard that one of them has a foot problem and is unlikely to survive the journey, he offered to charter a Russian cargo plane to take the trio to the Performing Animals Welfare Society’s elephant sanctuary in San Andreas. The gesture, however, is not universally admired. It’s suggested Barker’s money would be much better spent supporting conservation efforts in Africa.

Reports of an elephant massacre in Cameroon last month illustrate the point. Poachers went on a killing spree in Bouba N’Djida National Park, where elephants are supposed to be protected. Gangs, 50-strong, have come from Sudan and Chad on horseback and camels, taking advantage of a prolonged drought which has dried up riverbeds and reduced scrub vegetation, making the terrain traversable. About half of the park’s 400 elephants are reported to have been killed, their tusks cut off with chainsaws and the carcasses left to rot in the murderous heat. Belatedly, the Cameroonian government sent in the army. A soldier was killed in a confrontation with poachers. The ivory, it seems, is destined for China and Thailand where it will be turned into ornaments.

Such incidents are commonplace wherever there are elephants in Africa. According to Time NewsFeed, the elephant populations of Chad and the Central African Republic have been wiped out. Governments say they haven’t the resources to provide effective protection. There are too few wardens. Badly paid and poorly armed, the ones they have are no match for Kalashnikov-bearing poachers. Bob Barker’s $3m, it’s claimed, would be much better spent recruiting and equipping wildlife guardians in Africa.

The world, it seems, just isn’t big enough for elephants and us.

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