On her trip to the Mara with Niki, S met Chinese conservationist Zhuo Qiang, who recently hosted NBA star Yao Ming on his visit to Kenya. The two men have become united by their eagerness to show the world – particularly the Asian world – the devastation poaching has wreaked on dwindling populations of elephants and rhinos all over the African continent. Zhuo, who now goes by Simba (the Swahili word for lion), is an even-tempered man who left behind his government job, wife, and 8-year old daughter to dedicate himself to animal conservation. He has worked at 20 wildlife reserves in 12 countries throughout Africa over the course of 6 years before settling in the Maasai Mara to start his own conservation project.
Simba’s enthusiasm for the animals that make this continent so exceptional stood in marked contrast to the ambivalence displayed by a large group of his compatriots we met while on safari with D’s parents. We were staying at Lewa, a private conservancy dedicated to rhino preservation, but they seemed to be more interested in getting massages than going on game drives. Even so, it was good to see Chinese tourists on safari. We’d like to believe that encountering elephants and rhinos in the wild and seeing their majestic beauty up close will make someone think twice about purchasing rhino horn powder or elephant ivory trinkets.
As Jeffrey Gettleman details in his excellent exposé, a poaching frenzy has engulfed the continent, decimating elephant and rhino populations at a rate not seen in decades, exceeding even the slaughter that led the international community to ban the ivory trade in 1989. China fuels much of the demand, driving the prices of rhino horn and elephant ivory so high that poaching has become militarized, fostering organized crime and supporting failed states and terrorist groups across the continent. Gettleman’s article is really worth a read, both for the way he connects the disparate strands that together reveal the shocking extent of the poaching epidemic and for the figures that he cites. For example, he notes that 2011 broke the record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide: 38.8 tons, equaling the tusks from more than 4,000 slaughtered elephants.
While adult elephants are killed for their tusks, young elephants, with no ivory to offer the poachers, are often left untouched. Left on their own, baby elephants have no chance at survival. Without their mother’s milk and the protection of adult elephants, they either die of starvation or become easy prey. Fortunately, there are some excellent organizations that rescue orphaned elephants. In Kenya, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust airlifts orphaned baby elephants to its nursery in Nairobi, nurtures them back to health, and reintegrates them into the wild in Tsavo National Park. Last year, we adopted Ishanga as a birthday gift for S’s sister. This year, we’ve renewed our commitment by adopting Barsilinga for S’s dad. You can watch a video of his rescue here and see why we’ve nicknamed him Dumbo.
We may be powerless to stop the poaching epidemic, but we can at least do something to help some of its victims. If you’re interested in adopting an elephant of your own, it’s easy to do so online. Just click here, and for as little as $50 you can help save the next generation of these great creatures.