Poachers in Africa are slaughtering whole herds to feed China’s obsession with ivoryby Martin Fletcher / December 12, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
A herd of African bush elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya
© Martin Zwick/Age Fotostock/Superstock
We could smell the elephant’s carcass before we saw it—a nauseating stench of decomposing animal matter polluting the pure air of the Kenyan bush. We could even hear the carcass, or at least the buzzing of the thick black canopy of flies that covered it. But the sight of it still came as a shock.
The 40-year-old bull had been moving north to avoid the worst of the rainy season when he was shot in his front leg and chest by poachers. He escaped from his human predators, but four days later he lay down and died in the shade of an acacia tree. That was a week ago. In life he would have weighed six tonnes or more, but his flesh had been devoured by jackals and hyenas. His tusks, each weighing more than 20 kilograms, had been removed by rangers. His eye sockets were empty. White bones protruded from beneath his leathery grey skin. The contents of his stomach had oozed into the red sandy earth.
We stared in silence, appalled that such a magnificent creature could be reduced to something so vile. The elephant’s carcass was an apt metaphor for the avarice that killed it. It was contaminating the air and ground around it, just as the hunger for ivory is corrupting Africa. The continent’s elephants are being massacred, its conflicts inflamed and its governments subverted so that China’s swelling middle classes can flaunt their wealth by buying ivory knicknacks. Generations hence, this slaughter of the planet’s largest terrestrial mammals will surely be seen as one of the great transgressions of our age.