More news from the frontlines about the toll of war on other animals. In a recent article, Newsweek calls endangered species the “new conflict diamonds.” Trade in ivory and wildlife, poached mainly in Africa and shipped mostly to the U.S., China and Japan, is fueling multiple conflicts. The Janjaweed, the government-backed militia that has brought death and destruction to Sudan’s Darfur region for nearly five years now, also runs a lucrative trade in elephant tusks. Hundreds (if not more) elephants in Chad have been killed, processed and exported by the Janjaweed, using their arsenal of horses and high-powered rifles.
Thousands of illegal items made from contraband ivory are for sale on eBay, according to recent reports by wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Not only elephants, but also highly endangered gorillas, tigers, rhinos, macaws and other large birds, and reptiles are being hunted and killed and sold — with the proceeds (practically untraceable) bankrolling civil wars. Tons of ivory has been smuggled in recent years through west Africa in ship-board containers, supposedly carrying another cargo entirely: timber. (There’s another commodity often harvested and exported illegally, with devastating environmental effects.)
Another, different battle front: Asia, where elephants aren’t hunted to sustain wars, but to protect villagers’ crops and livelihoods. As elephant habitats shrink and human populations grow (and tolerance for wildlife declines), this “war” is increasing. A recent Reuters article reports that in Cambodia, the country’s 250 or so remaining elephants and its people are locked in conflict. Non-violent means of repelling the elephants’ penchant for crops may give way to more lethal ones. In India, 200 to 250 people a year are killed by elephants. One way of avoiding further battles: shifting away from crops elephants like to raid to those they don’t.
But this doesn’t always make sense on the ground. Cambodian farmer Siep Nait told Reuters she’s thinking of planting sugarcane instead of aubergines: it sells for more money and has more buyers. But, she laments, in a field that fed several elephants (despite not being designed to do so), “I’m scared that the elephants will come and I’ll get none.” It’s a complex calculus: (dead) elephants as war currency; (live) elephants as a liability to peace. Elephants, and people, under intense pressure. More battles, and more booty, ahead.