Elephants Can Remember

Elephants Can Remember

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As it should be: Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Bad news for elephants from Africa: illegal killing is up and the ivory trade is increasingly being run by well-organized gangs. Seizures of illegal ivory doubled between 2008 and 2009. Key areas of elephant poaching are in west and central Africa, with Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo key sites. Thailand is a major intermediate destination for the smugglers. The final stop for most of the ivory is China. While China’s government has put in measures to stymie the operations of ivory smugglers, but the black market appears still to be flourishing. Another factor researchers note that’s fueling the ivory trail from Africa to China is the growing number of Chinese living and working in Africa. “As ever, more than any other country, China seemingly holds the key for reversing the upward trend in illicit trade in ivory,” reads a recent report.

Better news for elephants comes from India. Circuses and zoos no longer will be allowed to keep elephants. The 150 or so elephants held captive in these facilities will be transferred to sanctuaries or parks “as soon as possible.” Not all, however, will retire. Some will be assigned to wildlife patrols or to carry tourists. But at least the measure ensures equity: the few captive African elephants in India will also leave the zoos they’re in. Left unaffected, though, are the hundreds (if not more) elephants kept at temples throughout India. Many, sadly, spend most of their lives in chains, too. It’s hard to imagine that Ganesha, Hinduism’s elephant-headed god, the remover (and placer) of obstacles and the gods’ scribe, would be untroubled.

Photo: Mia MacDonald