Step away from the race to eradicate plastic straws and the mess of half-hearted attempts to cut back on fossil fuels and consider the living pieces of our fragile environment that are mostly out of the periphery of the common person. Any activist can vouch that taking action is easier said than done and more emotionally draining, too—even when it doesn’t amount to much. Now, we’re no stranger to campaigns and fundraising companies like the famed “Ivory Ella” that pledged allegiance to protecting elephants… but just how much of those funds are funneled into preventative measures and conservation? When news breaks that mass amounts of an already threatened species are being slaughtered into their graves, conservationists and animal lovers alike are left feeling defeated and questioning just how far their individual efforts reach.
Elephants have held a firm place on the threatened species list since 1979, with bouts of both favorable and worrying fluctuations since. Lately, in Botswana, the death toll of elephants has peaked after anti-poaching units were forcibly disbanded just a short month into the Masisi administration. A recent BBC news report marks the tally at 90 or more poached in one concentrated area alone. While the change in government isn’t something to overlook, it’s not the only culprit. Protective services are largely funded by generous donors and the European Union; so when they withdraw funds people, elephants and parks suffer. An African minister who stands behind this states, “We must understand that the biodiversity is not being preserved just because we want to look at the animals. An equilibrium of the ecosystem also provides a better life for humans.” To combat human threats, funds are also allocated to build schools and create the infrastructure needed for jobs which give people more sustainable ways of providing for themselves.
Without the essential barriers (physical and monetary) against ivory-hungry poachers, elephants are defenseless and dwindling in number. This is especially devastating because up until this point, Botswana was once an African cornerstone of refuge; welcoming elephants from other countries that offer less protection. Cutbacks on protection, compounded with natural and expedited environmental degradation, raise even more red flags for elephants. Botswana is amidst its “worst drought in 30 years,” which cannot possibly support a surplus of non-native elephants. What’s more, the precious animal is coming to be viewed as a nuisance by villagers looking to expand, thus, pinning humans against other living beings; adding yet another ethical angle to be examined.
As per usual, Americans are not afforded the luxury of turning a blind eye and pretending we’re too far removed from the destruction. In March of 2018, President Donald Trump— who comes from a family of trophy hunters— quietly overturned former President Barack Obama’s sensible ban on returning to our home turf with elephant parts, acquired only by means of poaching. This comes full circle. The safeguarding of nature’s gentle giants demands for government officials with conservationist ideals on a global scale, not only where the madness happens.
Erin Mecchi is a second-year student majoring in English education with a minor in linguistics. ✉ EM886838@wcupa.edu.